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The Ordinary 


Digitized by the Internet Archive 
in 2014 


The Ordinary 


Wallace H. Kirby 

Photographs by Burnie Batchelor 

Jacket and book design by T. S. Ferree, Jr. 

Published by 
Edenton Street United Methodist Church 
Raleigh, North Carolina 

(&' Copyright 1980 
Edenton Street United Methodist Church 
Raleigh, North Carolina 

Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 80-69653 

Printed by 
Raleigh, N.C. 

who makes life 


1. We, Too, Can Walk With God 1 

2. He Didn't Know ... But He Went 8 

3. Come Near Me 14 

4. He Sees Something in Each of Us 19 

5. A Man After God's Own Heart 25 

6. Expect Christ Now! 31 

7. He Kept Having to Start All 

Over Again 37 

8. Practice What You Preach 42 

9. The Transformation of an 

Ordinary Man 47 

10. He Needs Ordinary Folks 52 

11. Why Settle for Less? 58 

12. With Paul, We'll Keep on Trying 63 

13. He Was One of Us 69 

14. The Resurrection Life: For Christ 

And For Us 75 

15. Take a Closer Look 80 

16. That Wasn't a Convincing Way 

to Begin 85 

17. What Do an Ancient Home and a 

Modem Church Have in Common? 91 

18. He Didn't Go Unprepared! 97 

19. Which One of the Twelve? 103 

20. Let Go! This is My Carrot! 109 

21. Reach Out and Touch 114 

22. Listen to the Children 120 

23. He Comes When We Call 126 

24. I Wonder Why He Didn't Leave 

His Name 132 

25. Will We Claim Our Inheritance? 138 

26. Has Your Heart Ever Been Broken? 144 

27. Not Really ... No One Could Love 

Me That Much! 148 

28. I Don't Believe in an Empty Tomb 154 

29. What's in the Clouds? 159 


Ordinary boys and girls become extraordinary when seen 
through the eyes of love. Ordinary babies are no longer part 
of a statistical record if they are our children or grandchil- 
dren. Ordinary events change into unusual events if we are 

The windows in the sanctuary of the Edenton Street 
United Methodist Church are ordinary stained glass win- 
dows, but they became extraordinary last year when a series 
of sermons was preached on the characters and events de- 
picted. We discovered that ordinary people like Enoch and 
Andrew and Paul became extraordinary when they allowed 
God to intervene in their lives. The ordinary events in the life 
of Jesus became extraordinary because of his response to his 
heavenly Father. We made the surprising discovery that any 
one of us, however ordinary or insignificant we may feel, 
can become extraordinary when we become aware of and 
respond to the transforming presence of God in our lives. 

This book is the result of the attentive listening by the 
Edenton Street United Methodist Church congregation and 
its request to have the sermons put into print. I am indebted, 
therefore, to those who listened and encouraged this en- 
deavor. My appreciation also goes to those who helped with 
the manual labor: my wife, Sally, and Mrs. Myron Banks 
who read, reread, and edited; Mrs. Everett Norton and Mrs. 
Alan Wood who deciphered and typed the manuscripts. 

As I study the Bible and observe people, I am constantly 
amazed at how God can use us ordinary folk and the events 
of our day for his extraordinary purposes. I pray that the 
readers of this book will find that same good news. 

Wallace H. Kirby 

September, 1979 

Enoch Genesis 5:21-24 


We, Too, Can Walk With God 

One Saturday night, the telephone rang. A friend was 
calHng my wife: "I'll be in Raleigh tomorrow attending 
Edenton Street Church. I cannot get there until eleven 
o'clock, so don't wait for me. I'll meet you in the narthex 
after the service." 

On Sunday morning I scanned the congregation from the 
pulpit, but I was never able to spot her. She had always been 
an attentive listener, and I needed the support I knew I could 
receive from that kind of listening. I finally concluded that 
something had interfered with her plans and she wasn't able 
to make the trip. 

After the service, by the time the last person had filed out 
the center aisle, I spotted her in a huddle with my family 
down front. They were busy chatting as I made my way 
toward them. 

''Where were you?" I asked her. 'T looked all over this 
sanctuary and I couldn't find you. Where were you hiding? 
In the balcony? Under a pew?" 

Back came her reply. "Oh, I was sitting next to Moses." 

I had been the minister of Edenton Street United 
Methodist Church for only a few months, and had a lot of 
names running around in my mind. But I could not re- 
member anyone by the name of Moses. I felt sure that if I had 
met someone with that Biblical name I would have remem- 
bered him. A John or a Paul would have escaped me 
perhaps, but not a Moses. 

"Moses who? I didn't know we have a member named 
Moses." Even as I said that, I was grateful to this unknown 
gentleman because he had evidently made our friend feel 

"Oh, you know Moses," she said. "There he is right up in 
that window. And I sat next to him." 
I suppose that was the first time I became aware of some- 


W^', Too, Can Walk With God—1 

thing other than the beauty of the stained glass windows in 
the sanctuary of Edenton Street Church. I knew that each 
window had a figure in it, but if you had asked who they 
were, I would have replied with a rhetorical question: "The 
disciples?" That morning I took a quick scan of the fourteen 
windows. After that I was aware that Christ is depicted in 
the two center windows, but I was not particularly con- 
scious of the others — except Moses. 

My awareness was intensified some months later when it 
became evident that some repair work needed to be done on 
the windows. A church school class, having given one of the 
windows as a memorial when the church was rebuilt after 
the 1956 fire, notified the business administrator that it 
would like to pay for any repairs needed on the ''Stephen" 
window. So I was introduced to Stephen. 

And then one of our good listeners asked if I had ever 
considered a series of sermons on the sanctuary windows. 
He went on to explain: "Whenever I usher, some people ask 
to be seated near the Andrew window, or perhaps as near to 
Abraham as possible. So I think the congregation would be 
interested in knowing more about the characters they see 

That was the beginning of this series of sermons. The 
major section of each window depicts some person from the 
Biblical record. There are six Old Testament persons on one 
side: Enoch, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, and Isaiah. 
On the other side are Peter, James, John, Andrew, Stephen, 
and Paul, all from the New Testament. The two windows in 
the center on each side depict Christ. The lower portions of 
all fourteen windows are events from the life and ministry of 
Jesus. If we start in the corner nearest the pulpit and follow 
the windows around the sanctuary, ending in the opposite 
corner near the lectern, we would follow each of the Biblical 
characters and the events from Jesus' life in the chronologi- 
cal order in which they appear in the Scriptures. 

The first window in the sequence shows Enoch. This is the 
man who stands nearest the pulpit, which is significant to 

Enoch is known as the man who walked with God. Of the 
twelve Biblical characters pictured, the least has been writ- 


W^, Too, Can Walk With God—1 

ten about Enoch. There are chapters and chapters which 
carry the account of Abraham's experience with God. David 
and Moses and Joseph occupy a lot of space in the scriptural 
record. Tucked away in the fifth chapter of Genesis are four 
short sentences, fifty-four words, that tell us about Enoch. 

We used to have Bible quizzes in Sunday School when I 
was a young boy. Whenever the teacher asked what man in 
the Bible never died, but was taken straight up to heaven, we 
had that answer at our fingertips. It was Enoch. I pictured 
him walking along one day and then suddenly vanishing into 
thin air. I later learned that there was another man who, 
according to the Biblical account, never died. The prophet 
Elijah was reported to have been taken up to heaven in a 

Reading that entire fifth chapter of Genesis is like reading 
a family ancestral record. It begins with Adam, telling when 
his son Seth was born, how long he lived after the birth of 
that son, the total years of his life, and then it states bluntly, 

. . he died." Genesis 5 follows that same pattern down 
through six generations: age at the birth of the son; how long 
the father lived afterwards ; the total years of the father' s life ; 
and then '\ . .he died." There is nothing descriptive about 
any of the six men before Enoch, or the two who follow. 

But the record about Enoch is different, and thus it shines 
as a brilliant star in that chapter. A comparison of Enoch and 
his son shows that difference. 

"Methuselah was 187 years old when he begat Lamech. 
After the birth of Lamech he lived 782 years, and had other 
sons and daughters. He lived 969 years, and then he died." 
(Genesis 5:25-26, NEB). 

''Enoch was 65 years old when he begat Methuselah. 
After the birth of Methuselah, Enoch walked with God for 
300 years, and had other sons and daughters. He lived 365 
years. Having walked with God, Enoch was seen no more, 
because God had taken him away." (Genesis 5:21-24, 

There are some other references to Enoch in the Bible. 
His name is mentioned in a listing of generations in the 
historical book of I Chronicles (1:3) and in the Gospel of 
Luke (3:37). The writer of Hebrews in the New Testament 


Vy^, Too, Can Walk With God— I 

talks about how faith has stood a host of people in good 
stead. One of these was Enoch. Hebrews reiterates what 
Genesis says about Enoch's walking with God (Hebrews 
1 1 :5). Because of the closeness of that walk, he was taken to 
another life without experiencing death. 

As a result of that statement about Enoch's being trans- 
lated into heaven, the belief grew up that he must have had 
all the secrets of the heavenly region and the future of human 
history disclosed to him. So sometime within the first cen- 
tury before the birth of Christ, a book was written that shows 
the illuminaries of heaven and predicts the punishment of 
the wicked and the rewards of the righteous. The book was 
given the name of Enoch. The Book of Enoch is one of those 
Jewish writings not included in the Old Testament or the 
Apocrypha. It is a part of the Pseudepigrapha, one of the sets 
of literature written sometime between the writing of the Old 
and New Testaments. 

The only other reference to Enoch in the Bible is in the 
New Testament Book of Jude. Here Jude quotes about six 
verses from the Book of Enoch, which was popular during 
his day (85-90 A.D.). 

The various translations of the Genesis account put em- 
phasis on the fact that Enoch walked with God, that he lived 
in fellowship with God, and that he lived close to God. 
Because of the fellowship and the closeness of that life-walk, 
Enoch ''was not," ''disappeared," "was seen no more," 
for God had taken him away. There is no effort at all on the 
part of the Genesis writer to elaborate on the mystery of 
death, or to try to define what lies beyond it. He gives us one 
great thing to grasp: here was a good man who walked with 
God, and goes to be with God forever. He goes to be with 
God forever because he has learned to be with him already in 
this life. 

Hubert L. Simpson, an English minister, has in his writ- 
ings a lovely paragraph concerning Enoch. "One day 
Enoch's place on earth was empty, and the people who 
knew him drew their own conclusions. He was known as an 
intimate friend of God; and what was more natural than, 
when night fell, Enoch should have gone home with his 


W^, Too, Can Walk With God—1 

A little girl was telling the story of Enoch in her own way. 
"Enoch and God," she said, "used to take long walks 
together. One day they walked further than usual. And God 
said, 'Enoch, you must be tired; come into my house and 
rest.' " 

One of the most delightful things I anticipate when I go on 
vacation is walking. In fact, we spend a lot of our time doing 
just that. We prefer the mountains. To others, walking for 
miles along the beach lends itself to relaxation and beauty. 
Some people walk for health reasons. A heart patient, for 
example, walks as part of a doctor's prescription for re- 
habilitation. Those of us who have reached middle age walk 
on a regular basis to keep our waist lines within reason, as 
well as to keep aging muscles in tone. Young adults walk and 
jog all over the city or on some track field in order to keep 
their youthful bodies in shape. And some people walk sim- 
ply because they have no other means of transportation; 
they do not drive or they do not own an automobile. So we 
walk for a number of reasons. 

But back to the delightful walking we anticipate on vaca- 
tion. There are some added elements that I enjoy as much as, 
and perhaps even more than, the physical exercise itself. 

I anticipate, first of all, our unforced, spontaneous con- 
versation. I like the talking that goes on as I walk with my 
wife, who is my best friend and favorite conversationalist, or 
with my children, who tolerate my idle chatter, or with my 
friends, who share their lives with me. 

The conversations are perhaps more vital than the walk- 
ing, for they stimulate affirmation, and understanding, good 
feelings and warmth, support and love. Sometimes we walk 
in silence, but we feel each other's presence. Words are not 
needed at moments when our spirits are so closely meshed 

All this says a lot about walking with God in a life of prayer 
and daily communion. We can feel his presence, even in 
silence. We can pray aloud or with pen and paper. We can 
listen through his Word as he tells us about the road, and 
what to look for, and what to strive toward. 

Another thing I anticipate in walking is a sense of com- 
panionship. I have discovered that we human beings are 


V^e, Too, Can Walk With God— I 

much nicer and more gracious to one another when we are 
walking. For example, you let two of us bump into each 
other on the sidewalk and we are both usually filled with 
apologies. Let us get into our respective automobiles and 
then bump into each other; we are filled with something 
other than apologies. 

On early morning walks here in the city, I have discovered 
a few other walkers who are openly friendly and don't hesi- 
tate to call out greetings. Even the milkman and the paper 
boy share some of the pre-dawn companionship. That isn't 
the case when we walk through the downtown mall during 
our lunch hour. Perhaps in the early morning there are fewer 
of us, and we take time with one another because we realize 
our common humanity, our likeness. 

Walking with God stimulates that same companionship. 
We become so accustomed to his presence that we don't 
hesitate to share some of our dreams and disappointments, 
some of our ambitions and anxieties, some of our satisfac- 
tions and sins with him. 

There is a serene and happy sense of companionship in a 
life-long walk with God. I feel that Enoch experienced just 
that. And that's exactly what each of us can experience. 

The conversations we have and the companionship that 
we enjoy when we walk together help us to realize that we 
also share the same goals in life. It is not just the destination 
of our walk, but the outlooks we have on life that become 
similar. We move closer together in our philosophy, our 
feelings, our sympathies, and our thoughts. 

I think so often of that first Easter Sunday afternoon walk 
to Emmaus that Luke tells us about (24: 13-22). Cleopas and 
his friend are talking about the death of Jesus and how all 
their hopes and dreams went down with him. The stranger 
who joins them begins to talk about the Scriptures and the 
meaning of all that has gone on. When they reach home, they 
are so enthralled with him and his knowledge and how he 
seems to understand their cause that they plead with him to 
stay. They are open to all that he has to say and are amazed 
at how they share the same feelings about life. And then they 
discover that the stranger was Christ. 

A daily, conscious walk with God produces all of these: 


W^, Too, Can Walk With God—1 

conversion, companionship, and the amazing discovery that 
we are moving in his direction, that our goal for our Hves is 
becoming one with God's. 

I know it was done for chronological purposes, but the 
fact that Enoch stands very close to this pulpit has haunted 
me ever since I became aware of it. When I look at his image 
in that window, it is almost as if he is saying to me: ''If you 
dare to stand here, let your constant goal be to walk close to 

The eyes of those who sit in the pews and look toward the 
pulpit almost inevitably catch a glimpse of Enoch's image. 
He must seem to say: ''As you listen to what is proclaimed 
from this pulpit, make your goal a daily walk with God." 

When I started preparations for this sermon, a song began 
to run through my mind. I've hummed it and sung it for 
weeks. Basically, it is a secular song since it comes from a 
film version of "The Student Prince." It is a prayer the 
prince offers as he is about to take over the reins of his 

I'll walk with God from this day on, 

His helping hand I'll lean upon. 

This is my prayer, my humble plea. 

May the Lord be ever with me. 

There is no death, tho' eyes grow dim, 

There is no fear, when I'm near to Him. 

I'll lean on Him forever 

And He'll forsake me never. 

He will not fail me as long as my faith is strong. 

Whatever road I may walk along: 

I'll walk with God, I'll take His hand, 

I'll talk with God, He'll understand; 

I'll pray to Him, each day to Him 

And He'll hear the words that I say. 

His hand will guide my throne and rod. 

And I'll never walk alone 

While I walk with God. 

(Webster and Brodszky) 
Like Enoch, God will guide our living and our dying as we 
walk with him. And even now, our ordinary days will be 
filled with the extraordinary presence of God. 



Genesis 11:26-25:10 
Hebrews 11:8-19 


He Didn't Know . . . 
But He Went 

''Seat me as near Andrew as possible." 

When that request is made to an usher at Edenton Street 
United Methodist Church, he is automatically aware that the 
worshiper wishes to be seated on the right, a little over half 
way down. Quite often the seating in the sanctuary is desig- 
nated by the Biblical character in the stained glass window. 

If we begin in the corner by the pulpit and move around 
the sanctuary in a counterclockwise movement, we would 
follow these Biblical characters in the chronological order in 
which they appear in Scripture. The first window depicts 
Enoch, the man who walked closely with God. In the next 
window we see Abraham. 

The one thing we always seem to remember about Abra- 
ham is that he was ' ' the man of faith, ' ' who would launch out 
without any guarantee or any security. We think of him as 
the sort of person who moved along on blind faith. 

The New Testament writer of Hebrews makes Abraham 
appear to be a man of unquestioning faith: ''By faith Abra- 
ham obeyed the call to go out . . . left home without knowing 
where he was to go. By faith he settled as an alien . . . living 
in tents." (11:8-9) He left all the basic security of land and 
wealth and friends. He gave up the safety of a developed, 
civilized country to wander into an unexplored and unde- 
veloped area. Abraham was a man of faith. 

I do not wish to destroy any illusions that we might have 
about Abraham, but quite often I have felt that I could not 
identify with him because he supposedly was able to go out 


He Didnt Know . . . But He Went— 2 

without knowing what lay ahead. I seem to need some 
assurance of how things will turn out before I can venture 

Reading the fourteen chapters in the Genesis account of 
his life has helped me see Abraham in a new light. I have 
discovered that he experienced some of the same things I 
experience in my struggle to have faith. I have discovered 
that he didn't always trust God to keep his promises, and 
quite often launched out on his own because he felt his plan 
was better than God's. That's the way I sometimes manage 
my affairs. I have found that Abraham vacillated in his faith 
the same way I vacillate in mine, that he had ups and downs 
just as often as I do. 

Knowing the whole story, I no longer hold Abraham at a 
distance, nor do I feel that I have nothing in common with 
him. Now I can sit down with him and let the Scriptures tell 
me what a struggle he had. I can see his times of doubt, 
watch him waver, and witness some of his hardheadedness. 
I can learn from Abraham how he finally did come to that 
time of life when he could, without assurance, move on out. 
For sometimes he didn't know, but he went on. 

Perhaps the two things we remember best about this Old 
Testament man are that he left his home country over in 
Western Asia and traveled into Palestine, obeying the voice 
of God. And we also recall that he almost killed his son 
because he thought God had directed him to make such a 
sacrifice. Both of these were high moments in his faithful- 
ness, but there were other moments when Abraham showed 
his complete lack of faith. So we need to know the whole 
story so that it can become our story. 

Wandering through the wilderness, on his way from Asia 
into Palestine, Abraham often stopped along the way and 
built altars to God. Here we can see his characteristic habit 
of worship and his faithfulness. 

As soon as he arrived in Palestine, Abraham discovered a 
terrible famine there. Although God had promised to care 
for him and his family, Abraham just couldn't quite believe 
that God could save them from starvation. So he packed up 
"bag and baggage" and went on down to Egypt, because he 
had heard there was plenty of food and water there. He 


He Didnt Know . . . But He Went— 2 

exhibited such great faith in leaving home that we are sur- 
prised to see his lack of faith when he leaves Palestine 
because he doesn't think God can provide for him. 

When Abraham reached Egypt, he sank to a low point in 
his morality. His wife, Sarah, was so beautiful that he feared 
some Egyptian would murder him in order to claim her. So 
he passed her off as his sister, deceiving the Pharaoh. He 
simply could not quite believe that God would protect him. 

He left Egypt and went back to Palestine where his faith 
reached another high point. He gave the best portion of the 
land to his nephew, Lot. He built an altar to God. When the 
inhabitants attacked him, Abraham felt the protection of 
God and made a covenant with him. 

In that covenant, he pledged obedience to God and was 
promised a son to become the leader of his people. But as 
time went by, there was no child and Sarah became very 
despondent. No longer able to believe that God would ac- 
complish his word, she proposed to Abraham that he have a 
child by her maid, Hagar. Here again, Abraham, who had 
shown such commendable faith, fell short. In accepting 
Sarah's plan, he took matters into his own hands, doubting 
God's promise and power. 

He showed faith when he pleaded with God not to destroy 
the city of Sodom. Then his lack of faith reappeared when he 
pawned Sarah off again as his sister in order to find favor 
with the Philistine king. Abraham finally recognized God's 
own consistent faithfulness when his son Isaac was born. 
When he thought he was called by God to sacrifice that son, 
Abraham was able to respond in perfect obedience. As they 
climbed the mountain to make the sacrifice, he responded to 
Isaac's probing questions about what they were to sacrifice 
by saying, ''God will provide." In the face of that ex- 
cruciating test, he exhibited the splendid faith in God that 
earned him the name, "A Man of Faith." 

Abraham had to struggle to reach that point, to become a 
man of faith. He finally reached the goal of all our lives, to 
become persons of faith. However, his conflicts show us 
that there are no simple techniques and no easy gimmicks. 
Abraham lets us know that we don't just walk into church 


He Didnt Know . . . But He Went— 2 

and take faith off a shelf, ready to wear. For faith is not a 
commodity. It is a venture. 

About twenty years ago, a Jewish rabbi wrote a book, now 
out of print, entitled. The Power of Faith. He began by 
telling about a man who came to see him because he had 
''nothing to live for." To the rabbi, the man appeared to 
have everything: financial resources, community standing, 
position, and power. 

''You are in the house of God," the rabbi said to the man. 
"Give yourself over to the grace of his peace." 

The man's eyes flashed with bitterness. "The same old 
bunk," he retorted. "You guys tell us to have faith in God 
and presto, all our troubles are over and life is beautiful 
forever. I won't find any help here." He got up and reached 
for his hat. 

The rabbi grabbed his arm and pulled him back down. 
"You are going to help yourself," he said. "You have ac- 
cess to a great storehouse of dynamic power, but you have 
not been using it. You have a storehouse of faith." 

The man looked at the rabbi with contempt. "If I possess 
such a storehouse, would I have come to you? Sure, I need 
it. But how do I get it. Where can I find it?" 

In answer, the rabbi told him an old Chinese tale. A little 
fish overheard a conversation between two fishermen. One 
of them said to the other: " Have you ever stopped to think of 
how essential water is to life? Without water, our earth 
would dry up. Everything living would die." The little fish 
became panic-stricken when he heard that. "I must find 
some water at once. If I don't, I'll be dead in a few days." So 
he went swimming away as fast as he could. Where could he 
find water? He asked the other fish in the lake, but they 
didn't know. He swam out into a larger lake, but no fish 
there could tell him where to find water. He went to the 
river, but still no luck. He finally reached the ocean. There, 
in the deepest part of the ocean, he found an old and wise 
fish. "Where can I find water?" he gasped. The old fish 
chuckled: "Water? Why, you are in it right now. You were 
in it back home in your own lake. You have never been out of 
it since the day you were born." 

He Didnt Know . . . But He Went— 2 

So it is with faith. We don't find complete, unquestioning 
faith. We can't buy it. We don't just put it on, ready-to-wear. 
We begin by using what little faith we already have. 

Abraham used what faith he had every time he started out 
on a venture. Sometimes he didn't have much, or it didn't 
seem so by the way he responded to God. Sometimes he lost 
what he had because he was fearful and distrusting. But 
there were other times when he used what faith he had until 
finally it was so strengthened that he became ''A Man of 

We don't find faith or buy it. We use what we have. It is 
like children learning to walk, developing a capacity with 
which they were born. Children are born with the ability to 
talk, but they have to learn how. Teachers cannot give 
children intelligence. Teachers help children use their innate 
intelligence. Children cannot be given music, but learn to 
express the music they possess. 

We are born with faith. Whether or not we develop that 
faith is up to us. Too often we either fail to develop it, or else 
the little faith we do have is diminished. For example, there 
is nothing more trusting than a child, but we usually con- 
centrate on teaching the child fear instead of trust: knives 
will cut you, cats will scratch you, dogs will bite you, fire will 
burn you, automobiles will run over you, water will drown 
you, disobedience will bring punishment to you. How many 
of us have overheard a parent say to a little child: 'Tf you 
don't stop crying, I'll let that policeman over there put you in 
a dark jail!" 

A scientific article some time ago declared that all normal 
children possess qualities of genius. Mediocrity only occurs 
in later life. Therefore, all children are geniuses, but almost 
no adults are. What happens? No one loses his mental 
capacity. It simply dies from disuse. 

Abraham never lost his faith during all those years of 
vacillating. When he failed to use it, it became dormant. 

How can I get faith? Where can I find it? We don't get it or 
find it. We use what we have. The only place to find faith is 
within ourselves. The only way to find it is to look for it. And 
the only way to strengthen it is to use it. 

I haven't spent any time in this sermon trying to define 


He Pidnt Know . . . But He Went— 2 

faith. If we need a definition, I think the Hfe of Abraham 
gives us one. Faith is a venture. Faith is a venture that begins 
when we take a chance that God is — that God is good, that 
God cares for us, that God cares about us, and that in Jesus 
Christ God has revealed to us a pattern for Hfe and given us 
the power to Hve by that pattern. 

Faith is a venture. We cannot approach it in the mood of a 
mother whose son was going off to camp for the first time. 
"Now don't you go near the water until you learn to swim 
properly," she cautioned him. We used to sing at Scout 
Camp a funny little ditty: "Oh, you can't go to heaven in a 
rocking chair — 'cause you'll rock right by that golden 
stair." We have to get out of the chair and into the water, for 
faith is a venture. 

Abraham's story declares what a venture it is. The Scrip- 
tures let us know what a hard time he had with himself. 
Going ahead in faith, he came to a deep sense of his purpose, 
of the meaning of his life. 

We don't find faith in a list of propositions, or a book of 
theology, or even in the Bible. We venture out, using what 
faith we have. And in that venture we find proof, and pur- 
pose, and meaningfulness. 

I am very grateful to Abraham. I'm grateful because he 
teaches me a great lesson. He teaches me to use what ordi- 
nary faith I have in the extraordinary venture of Christian 



Genesis 37:1-50; 26 


Come Near Me 

Some months ago I attended a seminar for funeral direc- 
tors and clergymen. We spent three hours listening to and 
questioning a theologian. He spoke out of his years of expe- 
rience in working with bereaved families in order to help us 
to be more effective in our ministry to the sorrowing. He 
gave us a lot of sound advice and affirmed some of the ways 
in which we now go about this part of the ministry. 

Right in the midst of his lecture he made reference to a 
seminar he and a famous psychologist had conducted. "I 
was awed by the thought of working with such a famous 
person," he told us. ''I had read and devoured everything he 
had written. He was my hero. And then I made the mistake 
of meeting him. So don't ever meet your hero." 

The theologian did not elaborate on the comment about 
his fallen hero, but he indicated that his idol did not live up to 
his image of him. 

The Bible is a remarkably honest book. It never tries to 
whitewash any of its heroes, to put them on pedestals such 
as the one on which this theologian had placed the psycholo- 
gist. In fact, the Bible's honesty is almost embarrassing. We 
feel self-conscious when it goes into detail about some of the 
unpleasant aspects of their lives, or shows their eccen- 
tricities, or simply calls ''a spade a spade" in telling about 
their immoral escapades. 

In this series of sermons on the Biblical characters de- 
picted in these stained glass windows, we find that the Bible 
tells all. It glosses over none of their stories. Not only does it 
let us see the pretty aspects of their relationship to God, but 
also it shows us all the ways in which they weaken and 
diminish that relationship. 

I don't think the Bible, or any other book, tells of a more 
arrogant, conceited, and difficult young man than Joseph. 
The writer of those fourteen chapters in Genesis, in which 


Come Near Me — 3 

Joseph is the central figure, brings ahve Joseph's less desir- 
able qualities as well as his greatness and glory. 

When I think of Joseph, I think of how I enjoy looking at 
pictures of remodeled homes. It is interesting to see the 
contrast between the before and after. I've noticed that 
health clubs and reducing gadgets often show a picture of the 
overweight candidate who enters the club or buys the 
gadget, and then the slenderized, satisfied customer. This 
may have been what the Genesis writer had in mind when he 
let us see the ''before and after" of Joseph. 

In the thirty-seventh chapter of Genesis, we discover this 
conceited, arrogant, boastful, tactless young man. Thor- 
oughly spoiled by a doting father who showered every sort 
of kindness and luxury on him, Joseph reveled in an ex- 
istence which made no demands on him. He dreamed about 
how great he was. He even dreamed of how much greater he 
was than his eleven brothers. He dreamed he was so great 
that not only did his family bow down to him, but also ''the 
sun and the moon, and even the stars" worshiped him. 
Joseph didn't just dream; he believed his dreams. He hurried 
after each one to tell his father and his mother, who were 
dismayed at their arrogant son. When his brothers heard his 
dreams, their admiration and affection for him quickly 

We can see very clearly what his brothers thought of 
young Joseph. The first time they caught him away from 
their father, the vote was ten to one to kill him on the spot. 
Reuben, the sensitive one, talked them out of that. He 
suggested dumping him into a well. The brothers agreed, 
anticipating his slow, agonizing death-by-hunger. That 
would take care of any ideas of greatness he had. However, 
a passing caravan of traders on its way to Egypt gave the 
brothers a chance to make some money as well as get rid of 
Joseph. So they sold their arrogant, immature, difficult 
younger brother into slavery. 

We know this story well from Sunday School. We re- 
member reading or hearing how the brothers took Joseph's 
many-colored coat when they sold him and sprinkled it with 
the blood of a goat. They took the coat to their father, 
reporting that they had found it and thus surmised that 


Come Near Me — 3 

Joseph had been torn apart and eaten by a wild animal. 

We've now seen Joseph before his experience down in the 
well, before he was sold into slavery by his brothers. But a 
new Joseph developed in Egypt. The arrogant and boastful 
young man became the humble, teachable, hardworking, 
willing, serving, mature leader. 

He endeared himself to the Egyptian people, willing to 
serve others whether it be Potiphar, a government official, 
or Pharaoh, the king, or the jailer, or the baker, or the butler. 
He became a trustworthy man who was confident, but not 

Joseph never betrayed the trust that any of his superiors 
placed in him. Genesis 39 shows a classic illustration of the 
opportunity he had to deceive Potiphar. 

Joseph was such a handsome young man that Potiphar' s 
wife took a sensual interest in him. A determined woman, 
she did her best to get Joseph involved in a sexual relation- 
ship. When his integrity won out, the official's wife gave 
false evidence at his trial. He was neither believed nor 
commended for his trustworthiness but was sent to jail on 
the word of a seductress. 

Even in prison, Joseph never reverted to his old charac- 
ter. We recall how he interpreted the dreams of an impris- 
oned butler and baker, and how the scuttlebutt in the staff 
carried this story to Pharaoh. Joseph was even called to the 
oval office one day to interpret the strange dreams the king 
had been having. From then on, over the next nine years, he 
was placed in charge of the Egyptian social service, which 
he guided well. 

When famine spread over all the known world, Egypt was 
prepared because of Joseph's sound policies. That country 
found itself selling grain to Syria and Asia and Palestine. The 
day came when the famine drove Joseph's brothers from 
their home in Canaan to Egypt to buy supplies. It never 
crossed their minds that the minister of internal affairs in 
Egypt was their brother. If Joseph had been the same Joseph 
they had known, they would have been ''goners." He was 
not the same brash, self-centered person. He had changed. 
Saint Paul would say that when Joseph became a man, he put 
away childish things. 


Come Near Me — 3 

A study in contrasts, in how human relationships can 
change when people have matured, is evident in Joseph's 
reception of those brothers when they stood before him. We 
cannot fail to be gripped by the emotion of the scene in which 
he says: ''I am your brother . . . come closer." Here was his 
opportunity, his chance to let them know that he was still the 
favored one, and that he hadn't forgotten what they'd done 
to him. He could have so easily, out of revenge, reverted to 
the arrogant and proud Joseph they had known. He had 
wealth, success, position. He had once dreamed that they 
would bow down to him, and here they were, right in his 
grasp. For the mature Joseph none of this was necessary. He 
had learned to keep wealth, success, power and fame in 
proper perspective. He never surrendered his soul to any of 
these. His response to God had made him aware of what life 
is about, and how love and affection make it strong and 

It was only after the death of their father, their one secu- 
rity in their relationship with Joseph, that the brothers them- 
selves matured. After the funeral they lied to Joseph, saying 
that their father had left a clause in his will specifically 
asking that he not try to get even with them, that he forgive 
them. Joseph rose to the very height of his spiritual maturity 
when he told them, "You don't have to lie to me — nor 
should you fear me — for God has changed my life." 

I don't think Joseph's story would be in the Book of 
Genesis had he not changed. I feel sure the window would 
have someone else's image if Joseph had remained as his 
brothers first remembered him. I think he is there as an 
example of the ''before and after" that can take place in our 
lives, once we allow God to help us mature. 

The windows in the sanctuary were placed in chronologi- 
cal order, the sequence in which they appear in scripture. 
We know that for a fact. I find that their sequence also has 
spiritual overtones. Enoch, the first Old Testament charac- 
ter, is a symbol of our need to make constant awareness of 
God's presence our goal, to walk with him day by day. 
Standing next to him is Abraham, who seems to say, ''Never 
give up that goal, even though you vacillate between God 
and yourself. Use what faith you have. Keep venturing out. I 


Come Near Me — 3 

did, and discovered that each venture strengthened my 
faith.'' Then there is Joseph whose Hfe points out how God 
helps us mature when we keep Enoch's goal before us and 
venture forth like Abraham. 

The things I used to remember about Joseph were so 
insignificant: his technicolor coat, his opportunity to have 
an affair, his fame and importance as a government official. 

Living through the whole Genesis account as I've pre- 
pared this sermon has helped me discover that the most 
significant event of Joseph's life was his encounter with his 
betrayers when he said, ''Come near to me, I pray you." 
Those are the words God utters to each of us. Maybe it isn't 
coincidental that standing in the next window is Christ, the 
shepherd. He said some similar words: ''Come to me, all 
you who are tired of carrying heavy loads of self-interest, 
self-concern, self-righteousness, and I will give you life that 
sees beyond self. Come to me and I will refresh and rejuve- 
nate you. Come to me and I will link you with a power 
beyond yourself and show you how to live life to its fullest. ' ' 

Only those of us who recognize our need will pay attention 
to this invitation. If we are content, we'll stay where we are 
and as we are. It's like the young man who, eager to be on 
time at his first day of work, tripped and fell on the sidewalk 
right in front of a bench where all the town loafers were 
sitting. He got up and dusted himself off amid the laughter of 
the witnesses seated on the bench. "Go ahead and laugh at 
me," he said to them. "None of you will ever fall because 
you're never going anywhere." 

"To come," to begin a new life, involves risk. Not to 
come produces only one certainty — the certainty that we 
will remain immune to the way of life God has shown in 
Christ. The tragedy is that many of us appear here Sunday 
after Sunday and never hear the call, "Come near me." 

If that exciting call reaches our inner being, then we can 
begin to live as God turns our ordinary immaturity and 
arrogance into extraordinary maturity and love for others. 



Exodus 2:1-40:38 


He Sees Something 
in Each of Us 

My invitation from the elementary class read, ''You are 
invited to our production." The class had been studying the 
Old Testament story of Moses. The special day arrived, and 
we parents were ushered to our seats. The narrator began, 
' There was a man named Moses . ' ' Then for the next twenty 
minutes, through the narrator and the dressed-up charac- 
ters, we heard and saw again from those fifth graders the 
fascinating story of Moses. 

I imagine all of us remember something about this man. 
He was the prophet who led the Hebrew people out of Egypt 
and helped them escape from the Pharaoh. He was the 
lawgiver who received the Ten Commandments from God. 
In fact, condensed into this one person are the figures of 
priest, judge, intercessor, victor, exile, fugitive, shepherd, 
guide, healer, miracle worker, rebel, man of God. We read 
his story in the Book of Exodus. Over in the Book of 
Deuteronomy, we can read the same story as it's told in the 
first person. 

In this series of sermons on the people depicted in the 
stained glass windows at Edenton Street United Methodist 
Church, we've found that they not only appear in 
chronological sequence, but each story builds upon the one 
it follows. In the Joseph story, we discovered the Hebrews 
moving to Egypt because of a famine. Because of Joseph's 
fame as prime minister, they were favored immigrants. They 
had a special section of Egypt, a reservation, on which to 
live. They were free to mix with the Egyptians and move 
about the country without any restrictions. This kind of 
privileged citizenship lasted as long as Joseph and the 
Pharaoh whom he served lived. 

When a new king came to the throne of Egypt, he knew 
very little about the late prime minister Joseph or any former 
promises to the Hebrew immigrants. His concern was their 


He Sees Something in Each of Us — 4 

over-population and intermingling with the Egyptians. He 
took immediate steps to restrict the Hebrews' freedom and 
decreed that they were to be slaves of his nation. Then he 
increased the number of hours in their work day and multi- 
plied their work load. Forcing them to rebuild whole cities, 
at the same time this determined king did everything he 
could to impede the Hebrews' brick-building industry. De- 
spite being made to increase the agricultural output also and 
being oppressed in every conceivable way, the Hebrews' 
population continued to grow, to the Pharaoh's dismay . As a 
drastic measure to cut down the birthrate, he ordered every 
newborn Hebrew boy to be drowned in the Nile River. 
These were sad times for the descendants of Joseph. Parents 
tried to hide their babies, but their homes were invaded and 
their infants put to death. 

This is where the story of Moses begins. He was born in 
Egypt in the midst of these oppressive days. His parents 
were Hebrews, which meant that as soon as his birth was 
discovered, he too would be killed. They were able to hide 
him in the house for three months, but then it became impos- 
sible to conceal him. In desperation his mother water- 
proofed a basket, put him in it, and let it float down the river. 
She was hoping one of the Egyptian women would find the 
basket and take the baby as her own. That was his only 

The basket was discovered by the daughter of the 
Pharaoh. Moses was not only safe; he became an Egyptian 
prince. He had the best education, the best clothing and 
food, and the highest privileges one could enjoy. 

One day Moses lost his temper when he saw an Egyptian 
soldier beating a Hebrew slave. Furious, he attacked and 
killed the soldier, and then fearful for his own life, he ran 
away. He went a long way from Egypt and lived out in the 
desert. There he became a shepherd, married, had children, 
and settled down to a quiet, easy life. As far as Moses was 
concerned, he was through with Egyptians and Hebrews. 
Although he must have been haunted by his memories, 
plagued with his sense of failure, and worried about the 
plight of his people, Moses didn't think he personally 


He Sees Something in Each of Us — 4 

counted for much. He felt God could take care of things 
quite well without him. 

One day when he was in the wilderness tending to his 
father-in-law's sheep, Moses met God at that famous burn- 
ing bush. We make a mistake in thinking all the Biblical 
characters we see depicted in these windows were obedient 
to God from the very moment they felt his presence; they 
were not. Moses is a typical example. He stood there that 
day and argued with God. The bush fascinated him, but it did 
not convince him. When Moses felt in his heart that God was 
speaking to him, telling how his people were crumbling 
under the oppression of Egypt, he thought to himself: "I 
already know that and have been trying to forget it. This is 
not one of my good days. My conscience must be acting 

God's presence kept gnawing at him. Moses felt he must 
be hallucinating when he thought God was telling him to do 
something about the enslaved people. Moses was not a 
volunteer. He did not want to be a liberator. He was an 
unwilling draftee for the task God mapped out for him, and 
an unlikely candidate at that. 

He began his self-defense in a very humble way, "God, 
you know I'm a nobody. How can I go to the king and bring 
the Hebrews out of Egypt? I feel sure if you were to search 
around, you would find some qualified person. There are a 
lot of folks who would delight in carrying out such a job and 
who would like all the prestige connected with a mass ex- 
odus. I'm just not the person for the job." 

That argument held little water with God, and Moses 
realized it. He launched into his second defense. 'T'll go and 
do as you say, God, but you know those stubborn Hebrews. 
They won't believe a word I say. They won't even listen. 
Nothing will convince them that you sent me." Then God 
gave Moses some credentials, so that when he got to Egypt, 
he could present proof that he was on a divine mission. 

Moses wondered what defense he could offer next. He 
realized that God had enough faith in him to carry out the 
task. Nevertheless, he made one more attempt to get out of 
it. "Lord, please don't send me. I'm not a good speaker and 


He Sees Something in Each of Us — 4 

never have been. I have a speech impediment. You know I 
lisp. I get tongue-tied. My words get all mixed up when I'm 
excited. Please, send somebody else." 

Now here we can really feel a sense of kinship with 
Moses. Moses argued with God about his plan for him. We 
don't always argue, but we are often convinced that God can 
not possibly need us to carry out his plans. Not us! 

We know the rest of the story. Moses went to Egypt. He 
had a difficult time with Pharaoh. Nothing seemed to con- 
vince the king that God was determined to free his people. 

God's efforts have been very vividly portrayed in the 
movie, 'The Ten Commandments." The walking stick 
turning into a snake, the Nile becoming a river of blood, the 
frogs and flies, the lice and grasshoppers, the boils and 
hailstorm, and the death angel are described as God's ways 
of convincing that stubborn king to let his people go. 

Finally, the Hebrews were released. They started out and 
every time they felt defeated, Moses urged them to keep 
going. The Red Sea miraculously opened for them. They 
discovered food in the desert. Miracles were not the whole 
story, however; they turned to idol worship whenever 
Moses left them for a respite. Most of the forty years they 
spent arguing with Moses about their difficulties and claim- 
ing he took them away from the security of ''the good old 
days" back in Egypt. At times they made him so angry that 
he lost control of his temper. In spite of all the obstacles, 
Moses never argued with God again about being needed. His 
discovery that God did need him carried Moses through 
thick and thin, dangers and difficulties, misunderstanding, 
hardship, and discouragement. Moses did not consider him- 
self a person of value, but God did. ^ 

That may be the reason he stands here in sequence with 
these other Biblical characters. Enoch is a testimony of what 
it means to live with a steady sense of God's presence. 
Abraham urges us to stop getting concerned about making 
giant steps and to venture out every day with what faith we 
have. Joseph shows us how an awareness of God can move 
us away from self-centeredness. Then there is Moses, who 
seems to say, "You may not think you are much or have 
much to offer, but each of you counts with God. He sees 


He Sees Something in Each of Us — 4 

something in every one of you, whether you stand in the 
pulpit, or sing in the choir, or sit in the pew. You are of 

One morning soon after I arrived at work, a young man 
was waiting in the office. ''I need some help; Fm hungry," 
were his opening words. We spent a few minutes together, 
and I discovered he was supposedly on his way to Florida. 
He was twenty-eight years old, had been married and 
divorced, and was estranged not only from his wife, but also 
from his parents. I began to fill out a meal ticket. 

''God just doesn't care any more," he said. And then I 
jumped down his theological throat. I became as impatient 
with him as Moses had been with those complaining 
Hebrews. ''If God doesn't care, why do you think you're in 
a church? Why does this congregation give me means of 
helping you when it doesn't even know you? Maybe you're 
the one who doesn't care any more." My response so 
startled him that he made as quick an exit as possible. He left 
with the meal ticket, and I hope, with a knowledge of who 
was being careless. 

A young woman went to a counselor because she was 
having difficulty coping with all the pressures in her life. She 
needed supportive help. She felt she was not fitting into 
God's pattern for her. Maybe as the result of the counselor's 
frustration, or perhaps as shock therapy, one day that coun- 
selor said to her, "If you don't respond to God, he'll drop 
you and go on to find someone who will . " She has since been 
haunted by the thought of being abandoned by God and has 
tried to do things to prove her merit. She feels that God may 
leave her if she puts up one argument with him. That was not 
good therapy for that young lady. She needs to know that 
she is valued in spite of her own self-devaluation. 

I used to skip over every list of names that I ran across 
reading in the Bible. I couldn't pronounce them, and I didn't 
think those genealogies added to my Biblical knowledge. 
Now I've decided that I'm glad the writers included those 
names. I think one of their reasons was to show how God 
values the individual. That is one of the wonders of his love. 
He loves each of us as if there were only one of us to love. 

A child was being taught the Lord's Prayer in Sunday 


He Sees Something in Each of Us — 4 

School. She was proud to be able to use it at home that night 
when her parents were tucking her in bed. She wasn't quite 
clear about the first phrase. Instead of praying, ''Our Fa- 
ther, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name," she came 
out with, ''Our Father, who are in heaven, how do you know 
my name?" That little girl was using good theology, for, 
wonder of wonders, God knows each of us individually, by 
name, and he knows the story of our lives. 

We live in a society that is growing more and more imper- 
sonal. We are known, not by name, but by Social Security 
and credit card numbers. Even the bank gives us a number 
instead of a name. The value of the individual is taking a 
terrible beating. Automation, computerization, population 
control, and legal abortion all contribute to making the indi- 
vidual feel unneeded and unwanted. 

The right to be born is questioned. I read a church news- 
letter which declared that the individual is dispensable. The 
writer suggested that if we feel we are indispensable, we 
should put one hand into a bucket of water and splash it 
around. The hole that is left in the water when we take our 
hand out is a measure of our worth. "So you see," the writer 
concluded, "you really don't count for much." That may be 
true for society in general, but it is not true in our relation- 
ship with God. With God, each of us is indispensable. God 
needed Moses. When he discovered and accepted the as- 
tonishing truth that God needed and valued him, he re- 
sponded obediently. Whenever we look at his image, let's 
remember that God called him by name. God calls each of us 
by name, whether it be Margaret, or Harold, or Sue, or Joe, 
or Alice, or John. He calls us by name because he sees 
something good and noble and fine in each of us. The won- 
derful truth is that God needs and values us. He calls us and 
then uses our ordinary inadequacies for his extraordinary 



I Samuel 16:1-30:13 

II Samuel 1:1-24:25 

I Kings 1:1-2:11 


A Man After God's Own Heart 

There was a very interesting article in the editorial section 
of the Raleigh News and Observer on November 1, 1977. 
Written by Judy Bolch, it emphasized that we need to admit 
that we tell lies, that falsehood really exists. Because we 
have refused to do so, we have merged "black and white into 
an unreliable gray." Husbands who desert the home are not 
faithless; they are entangled in mid-life crisis. Children who 
get F's in school do not fail; they underachieve. A dead man, 
hands tied behind his back and a knife in his throat, has not 
been murdered; some poor misguided soul, obviously 
driven by forces beyond his control, stumbled and stabbed 
him. Manufacturers do not lie when they insert the engine of 
one model car beneath the hood of another; it is an error of 
judgment. Characters on soap operas have been rationaliz- 
ing their misdeeds for years. Miss Bolch called for a 
reinstatement of the lie, a confession of sin instead of double 
talk. She concluded by saying how glorious an open confes- 
sion can be: ''I lied. Let me tell you the truth." 

The article made me think of Dr. Karl Menninger's book. 
Whatever Became of Sin?, and the Old Testament king, 

Our Duke Divinity School intern who is working with our 
youth has asked me more than once if I intended to tell all 
when I get to the David window in this series of sermons. I 
admire the Bible's honesty. The open truth can be embar- 
rassing, especially when the scriptures go into detail on the 
unpleasant aspects of the lives of these people. Abraham 
wasn't always ''the faithful one." At times he did have 
unquestioning faith in God, but there were other times when 
he wasn't sure God knew what was going on. Joseph wasn't 
exactly the "ideal young man" we remember him to be. 
Moses did not jump up and immediately start out on God's 


A Man After God's Own Heart — 5 

mission. He put up some strong arguments, for he simply did 
not want his life disturbed. 

Secular history has not been quite as honest with its 
heroes. In fact, it has only been in recent years that we have 
read of the eccentric characteristics and immoral escapades 
of past heroes. Unfortunately, the modern biographies have 
been more exploitative than enlightening. The Biblical writ- 
ers were more ethical. Their honesty shows us readers that 
life is not departmentalized but is all under the watchcare of 
God. We are allowed to see these people in their struggles 
toward affirming God as the source of their being. That 
makes them real, like us, because we, too, struggle. 

Once there was this man named David. He was a king, but 
that is not all that he was. He was a shepherd, a soldier, a 
part-time musician, a poet, an outlaw, a revolutionist, a 
hired mercenary. David had a variety of careers. He seemed 
to do well in all of them. In fact, he did so well as king that he 
became a symbol of the Golden Age of Israel. 

According to the story, written in I and II Samuel, God 
promised David that his name would be remembered forever 
and the good and victorious kingdom he had established 
would be eternal. After David's death, whenever difficulties 
came or adversities fell upon the people of Israel, the poets 
and prophets would plead with God not to forget his prom- 
ises to the descendants of that noble king. Out of rabbinic 
teaching the idea grew that the Messiah, who would bring 
back that Golden Age, would come from the royal line of 
David. That's why the Gospel of Matthew traces the geneal- 
ogy of Jesus back to David. 

David threw a long shadow across the history of his peo- 
ple. Fifty-five pages of the Bible, a book and a half, are 
devoted to his story. 

We first meet him as a shepherd boy. There are two very 
romantic stories of how he won the favor of Saul, who was 
then king of Israel. One story says that Saul suffered from 
periods of severe depression. When it became impossible 
for him to function because of this, Saul would retreat to his 
chambers. He wanted someone to play a harp to soothe his 
jangled nerves. David, one of the eight sons of Jesse, was 
chosen for the job. Saul grew to love and depend on David. 


A Man After God's Own Heart — 5 

He kept him close by his side, choosing him to be the one to 
carry his weapons. 

The other story of how Saul and David became acquainted 
is the one we know best. The Philistines and the Israelites 
were at war. The leader of the Philistine army, Goliath, was 
a giant of a man. Every soldier in Israel was afraid of him. In 
fact, his presence immobilized the whole Israelite army. 
Three of David's brothers were in that army, and their father 
sent David to the campsite with some bread and cheese for 
them. Goliath was, as usual, making fun of the Israelite 
soldiers. David didn't like to hear his country's military 
forces being intimidated and insulted, so he asked permis- 
sion to fight the giant. We recall the slingshot and the smooth 
stone that hit Goliath between the eyes, knocking him down, 
making David the victor. 

This made the young shepherd boy a national hero. His 
popularity overshadowed King Saul's, and that became a 
problem. The more victories David had, the more jealous 
Saul became. Saul's jealousy led to deep depression, and 
finally the situation became so intolerable that David had to 
run away. 

Now David was a fugitive. The Robin Hood of Israel, he 
organized a very effective gang of outlaws, undefeatable by 
any army. 

When Saul died, David was declared king. He was thirty- 
seven years old and stayed in office for the next thirty-three 
years. Those were glorious times for his country. Her boun- 
daries were extended. Her foreign relationships were 
strengthened by trade and tribute. Her wealth was greater 
than it had ever been. It really was the Golden Age for the 
Hebrew people. After all their wanderings from Egypt to 
Palestine, long periods of unrest with no leader, and those 
rough years of Saul's rule, they had finally inherited the land 
of milk and honey. A descendant of the Hebrews would have 
referred to the days of David as ''the good old days." 

David's personal life, however, was a strange and com- 
plex one. He was an odd mixture. Although he was suc- 
cessful as a king, he could not manage his own household. 
He had more trouble with his children than any one ought to 
have. Their lives were marred by rape, incest, murder, and 


A Man After God's Own Heart— 5 

insurrection. His son Absalom led such a violent revolt 
against his own father that David was forced to hide away 
from the capital city. 

He could control a country, but he didn't seem to be able 
to make a success of his marriage. In order to marry Michal, 
the daughter of Saul , David killed four hundred Philistines in 
battle. When his wife expressed disgust at his unkingly 
manner of dancing in the streets of Jerusalem, their com- 
munications were so poor that he had her exiled, where she 
died rejected and alone. Can you believe that this is the man 
to whom we attribute the lines of Psalm 23? 

He was an autocrat, a tyrant, a dictator. And yet, he could 
accept rebuke and acknowledge his sinfulness — and re- 
pent. Perhaps the darkest and best-known chapter of his life 
concerns a very faithful soldier named Uriah and Uriah's 
wife, Bathsheba. It is a tale of lust and treachery. David and 
Bathsheba had an affair. When David discovered that 
Bathsheba was pregnant, he tried to shift the responsibility 
to her husband. When that plan failed, he had Uriah put in an 
exposed position in battle, so that his death was inevitable. 

After Uriah's death, David married Bathsheba. Israel had 
an outspoken prophet who did not hesitate to confront 
David with his lust and treachery. When Nathan called the 
king to confess his sinfulness, David did so and asked for- 
giveness. Psalm 51 is one of his prayers of confession. 

St. Paul, centuries after David's time, addressed some 
Jews in Antioch (Acts 13:13-41). In his talk, he reviewed all 
the highlights of Israel's history. He reminded his listeners 
of Samuel, the great prophet, and of King Saul. Then he 
said, ''God set up David as their king, giving him approval in 
these words: 'I have found David, son of Jesse, to be a man 
after my own heart, who will carry out all my purposes.' " 

That seems to be a strange affirmation in light of what we 
know about David. How could anyone who is an outlaw, a 
liar, a revolutionist, a murderer, and an adulturer be ''a man 
after God's own heart?" That turns all our ways of evaluat- 
ing conduct upside down. Didn't God know David? How 
could such a rascal fit into any divine plan? He was certainly 
not a good man as we count goodness. Why was it written of 
David alone that he was ''a man after God's own heart?" 


A Man After God's Own Heart — 5 

Maybe it was his honesty. When he was confronted with 
his sinfulness, he did not try to justify what he had done, or 
rationaHze it, or even whine about it. David heard Nathan 
out when he confronted him about the Bathsheba affair. 
David did not try to say it was something other than what it 
was. He did not say, ''But, Nathan, you do not know what 
terrific pressure I have been under. I just couldn't control 
what I did." David was honest in saying simply and directly, 
"You are right. I have sinned." Perhaps we need some of 
that honesty ourselves. 

Maybe David was singled out because of his tenderness. 
Once he hid in a cave to escape the vengeance of King Saul. 
Saul came into the cave but did not see David or his men 
hiding in the darkness. Here was a chance to get rid of the 
king, but David would not allow any harm to be done to Saul. 
Even when the king was killed in battle, David would not let 
the news out in enemy territory because he didn't want any 
rejoicing. In spite of all that Saul had done to him, David 
loved him and showed him tenderness and understanding. 
Perhaps we need to replace some of our vengeance with 

David could have been called ''a man after God's own 
heart" because of the sheer bigness of his spirit. He seemed 
to be free from any petty resentment and vindictiveness. He 
was generous in forgiving the insults heaped on him by Saul. 
Sometimes he had difficulty not getting provoked at home, 
but he never seemed to harbor ill thoughts even when his son 
rebelled against him. St. Peter writes that ''Love covers a 
multitude of sins." I think Franklin Roosevelt was right 
when he said, "The sins of the warmhearted and the sins of 
the coldblooded are weighed on different scales." Maybe 
we need to be less negative and more generous. 

Or perhaps David was so designated because he kept 
coming back to God. He never made it to Enoch's level of 
sainthood. He lived with his sensuality and deceit, and never 
blamed God for the sins he committed or said, "The devil 
made me do it." He took the responsibility, struggling to 
hold on to his faith. 

After the Bathsheba episode he prayed, "Be merciful to 
me, O God, because of your steadfast love. Because of your 


A Man After God\s Own Heart — 5 

great mercy wipe away all my sins! Wash away all my evil 
and make me clean from my sin/' (Psalm 51:1-2) Maybe 
we, as wayward as we are, need to keep coming back to 
God, constantly aware of our need for renewal. 

I think God understood David better than we do. A queen 
of England once remarked primly and severely, ''David is 
not the kind of person with whom I wish to associate." I 
guess not. He would have frightened Victoria to death. But 
his story is in the Bible, and Paul says he was ''a man after 
God's own heart." He lied and murdered and committed 
adultery. I don't understand how Paul could make such a 
statement, but I don't understand God's thoughts. He sees 
beyond what we see. So maybe he also understood David 
better than we do. And aren't we glad to have a God, and a 
man of God like Paul, who understand each of us better than 
we understand ourselves, better than those about us under- 
stand us? 

Once there was a man named David. He was a king, but 
that is not all. He was a rascal. He was a sinner, but also a 
singer of bittersweet songs. He was honest and tender and 
generous and repentant. He was a man after God's own 
heart, an ordinary sinner who somehow was extraordinary 
in God's eyes. 

Maybe there's a chance for us! 



Isaiah 1:1-39:8 


Expect Christ Now! 

Who is the most popular preacher today? If we were to 
take a poll of any segment of American society, I believe 
Billy Graham would be selected. He is world-famous. He 
has preached practically everywhere and to the largest con- 
gregations ever assembled in modern times. He has written 
books, and books have been written about him. He has been 
received by the British Parliament, the Congress of the 
United States, and a host of other governmental bodies. He 
has been called the President's preacher, especially during 
the administrations of Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and 
Gerald Ford. There is no doubt that Billy Graham is the best- 
known and most popular preacher of our day. 

There was another preacher who lived about 700 years 
before the birth of Jesus whom we might call the ''Billy 
Graham" of his day. He was popular in the sense that he was 
well-known, because he had access to all the kings of his 
country and advised them on the affairs of state and moved 
in and out of the most prestigious places. His name was 
Isaiah. He can be seen in the last window on the right as you 
leave the sanctuary of Edenton Street United Methodist 

When we look through the Bible, we find a book that 
carries Isaiah's name and was presumably written by him. In 
reading Isaiah, we discover that it would be more accurate to 
assume that it was written by the prophets Isaiah. Students 
of the Old Testament know that the Biblical material under 
the name Isaiah comes from three different persons. They 
are frequently called First Isaiah, Second Isaiah, and Third 
Isaiah. The one responsible for the main portion of the book 
is the first prophet. Chapters one through thirty-nine are 
attributed to him. I think the workman who fashioned the 


Expect Christ Now! — 6 

stained glass window had this Isaiah in mind. The streamer 
across his chest reading, 'The Lord Of Hosts," indicates 
this because fifty-six times that prophet uttered those 

Isaiah's main concern was the awful gap that existed 
between the hoHness of God and the corruption he saw 
among his people as they went about their daily affairs. He 
believed that every corrupt thing an individual or a group did 
was caused by the attitude of the heart. If what's in the heart 
is corrupt, he said, all of life will be corrupt. 

This was the same story the people had heard from Amos 
and Hosea, two prophets who preceded Isaiah. It was 
nothing new, so they didn't listen. It was just a preacher 
preaching. Isaiah tried a number of ways to get them to 
listen. He tried some unusual techniques to get his message 

One time he went up and down the streets of Jerusalem, 
singing a popular fertility song. ''My beloved has a vineyard 
on a very fertile hill" were familiar words to the people of 
that century. They knew the music and the implication of all 
the words. Since it wasn't the kind of song a preacher would 
be singing, it attracted their attention. If, some Sunday 
morning, I proceeded down the aisle singing one of those 
"suggestive" songs that are popular now it would attract 
your attention. It would be unusual enough for me to pro- 
ceed alone singing, but if the song included words like, 
"When we get behind closed doors, when she lets her hair 
hang down, when she makes me glad that I'm a man," this 
congregation would come to ramrod attention. That was the 
reason Isaiah paraded up and down the city streets — to 
attract attention, to alert the people. And the song he sang 
had enough sexual suggestions to catch their interest. 

Suddenly, right in the middle of his song, Isaiah changed 
the words. Instead of singing what his audience knew, Isaiah 
was saying: "The grapes of the vineyard grew wild and sour, 
and not the sweet ones the beloved had planted." Having 
the attention of his listeners, he continued: "This is what 
God's people have done. You were his pleasant acreage. He 
expected you to yield a crop of justice, but he found blood- 


Expect Christ Now! — 6 

shed. He expected righteousness, but you have not lived up 
to those expectations." 

On two other occasions, Isaiah made spectacular use of 
his own children. Ahaz, the king of Judah, was afraid other 
countries would invade and overthrow his tiny country, so 
he began to build up protective forces. The Lord told Isaiah 
to convince Ahaz and the people that the country of Judah 
would never be utterly destroyed. With this in mind, Isaiah 
gave his eldest son a name meaning ''A remnant will return 
to God." Anyone who inquired about that strange name 
heard a sermon from Isaiah on the love God had for the 
Hebrew nation and why it was so necessary to change their 
hearts, their inner attitudes. 

Isaiah gave another child a name worse than his brother's. 
' ' Speeding to the spoil , Hastening to the prey" was the name 
this child was saddled with. King Ahaz was considering an 
alliance with some other countries for defense purposes. 
Isaiah tried to warn him that it wouldn't work; it would break 
down and hasten Judah' s destruction. In order to attract the 
attention of the king and the people to the danger of such a 
negotiation, he would, on introducing that child, call for 
their repentance. 

There was one other thing Isaiah did to get his message 
before the people. All the southern nations were forming a 
political agreement. They were banding together and pool- 
ing their resources so that they might have a strong defense 
against the powerful nation of Assyria. Egypt was one of 
those southern nations joining the alliance, and Isaiah knew 
that she was, at the same time, making plans to join forces 
with Assyria. He was trying to make the king and the people 
aware of what was going on and to warn Judah to leave 
Egypt alone. If she allied herself with that deceitful nation, 
she would surely be invaded. When a nation was defeated in 
Isaiah's day, all her citizens were made prisoners of war, 
stripped of all their clothing, and displayed as objects of 
shame and ridicule. 

When Isaiah walked naked up and down the streets of 
Jerusalem, you can imagine the reaction. ''Why is that 
preacher going around naked?" 'To show that our nation 


Expect Christ Now! — 6 

will be stripped naked if we make Egypt a political ally." 

Isaiah's attempts to get the message of the Lord across 
were unconventional, but he was willing to sing in the street, 
give his children symbolic names, and walk about naked to 
awaken and alert his people to God's ways. He gave up his 
pride and dignity in answer to God's prophetic call. 

Isaiah knew what happened when one obeyed the Lord. 
Hope and anticipation and expectation were set forth clearly 
in his prophecy. If we were to lift up the one thing from this 
man's life that makes the deepest impression on us, certainly 
it would be his sense of anticipation. He was excited about 
what could happen if men obeyed God. 

Isaiah wrote those memorable words about the one who 
would come and show what God is like. He looked forward 
to God's entry in human history. The heart cannot help but 
beat faster when we read them: 

''The Lord will give a sign; a virgin shall conceive 
and bear a son, and shall call his name Em- 
manuel." (7:14) 

'The people who walk in darkness will see a great 
light. Unto us a child is born; to us a son is given. 
He shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty 
God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." 

"The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the 
spirit of wisdom and understanding, counsel and 
might." (11:2) 

Anticipation was the keynote of Isaiah's life and proph- 
ecy. We explain our social problems and our behavioral 
conduct by referring to gaps. We have a generation gap, a 
knowledge gap, a communication gap. Name the problem 
and we have a gap to account for it. There is one gap that is 
less understood and more real than all the others, and that's 
the anticipation gap. That gap is only too evident when it 
comes to our profession of the Christian faith. 

Anticipation is highly visible almost everywhere else. In 
the political arena, it is one of the strongest elements pres- 
ent. Every candidate gives us a new sense of expectancy. 


Expect Christ Now! — 6 

Every program introduced into any legislative chamber has 
an element of hope for someone or some cause. We find it in 
sports. A new coach is hired because the athletic council and 
the school administration expect him to produce a winning 
team and satisfied alumni. Players go into games hoping to 
win, even if the odds are against them. Every participant in 
the Olympics visualizes a medal in his hand. 

Why do we sing a different tune when we come to church? 
We pray "Thy kingdom come," but do we really expect it to 
come? We pray 'Thy will be done," but do we hope it will 
be done through us? We pray 'Torgive us as we forgive," 
but do we anticipate going through the tension of forgive- 
ness? Do we think anything might happen if we attend a 
worship service? Or has the heart of our Christian faith 
become so withered that we go to church out of habit or by 
rote, and say almost in defiance to the worship leaders, ''Vm 
here. Now see if you can inspire me." 

A poet once said, ''I no longer anticipate being visited by 
any inspiration." He might be speaking for many of us who 
have turned the excitement and the adventure of worship 
into dullness and boredom. Some of us go to church with no 
enthusiasm, no expectancy, no anticipation, and then we 
wonder why we have not been visited from on high. Antici- 
pation will bring us a sense of the real presence of God. 

Dr. Reinhold Niebuhr was a great theologian. He wrote 
volumes of theological insight and wisdom. None of those 
writings has reached more people than his simple prayer: 
''God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot 
change, the courage to change the things I can change, and 
the wisdom to know the difference." That prayer has be- 
come the theme of Alcoholics Anonymous. Persons 
addicted to that drug turn from despair to hope, and all who 
join that group foresee that the presence of God will help 
them overcome their plight. 

I recall when I was a child what a dreaded disease 
poliomyelitis was. I had friends who suffered from it and are 
crippled today because of it. I still remember my parents 
back in the 1940's saying, "Someday we will have a way to 
control this disease." They anticipated the Salk vaccine. 

There are scientists today who spend year after year in 


Expect Christ Now! — 6 

laboratories lined with rabbits, mice, monkeys, test tubes, 
and phials of blood samples. These men and women have 
failed a thousand times, but they continue their ex- 
periments. They hope with confidence and and boldness 
that some day they will discover the secret that can unlock 
the mystery of cancer. They firmly anticipate a vaccine or 
cure for this disease that scares us all. 

There are sixteen prophetic books in the Old Testament 
written by such men as Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Hosea. I 
have wondered, since starting this series of sermons on the 
sanctuary windows, why the prophet Isaiah was the one 
selected to stand at the back near the entrance. Is it just for 
chronological purposes? Or could it be to remind us to come 
no further into this place unless we come with a sense of 
expectancy? Could he be saying to us, as we enter, 'Tf you 
don't anticipate something wonderful happening while you 
are here, then you have dealt a death blow to your faith." 

My fifth grade teacher used to say that she wished she 
could bore a hole in our heads and pour in a can of brains. 
That's how desperately she wanted us to learn. Isaiah did 
some unconventional things to get his people to be alert to 
what was happening and what was going to happen. I would 
be tempted to use that can of brains and do some of the 
things Isaiah did if I thought it would inspire us to live in 
anticipation and expectancy of the living presence of Christ. 
I don't mean for us to be in a nervous state of constant 
anxiety, but to live faithfully, obediently, and receptively 
every moment of every day. Then we can move from ordi- 
nary sameness and dullness and boredom to an extraordi- 
nary anticipation of the presence of living Christ. And we 
will find that is already ours, now. 



Matthew 10:1-4 
Acts 2:14-43 


He Kept Having To 
Start All Over Again 

The fresh, unfaded blues and reds in the sanctuary win- 
dows of Edenton Street United Methodist Church are 
breathtaking. Even more striking is the symboHsm the win- 
dows convey. Each has a unique story to tell, and each of the 
central figures in twelve of them had a special relationship to 
God. The amazing thing about those relationships is that 
they are so similar to ours. If we know the Biblical stories we 
are aware that the persons pictured here had the same strug- 
gles and the same ideas that we ourselves have. Each person 
depicted in those windows has a word of guidance to offer us 
as we make our way through life, trying to be the man or 
woman we feel God wants us to be. One of the reassuring 
things we discover when we know these twelve is that they 
were not saints; they were people just like us. It is rather 
awesome to realize that the picture of any of us could very 
well be in one of those windows along with Abraham or 
David, Andrew or Paul. 

On the left of the sanctuary, as you enter, are six Old 
Testament characters. The chronological order of their ap- 
pearance in the Bible moves from Enoch to Isaiah (front to 
back). On the right are New Testament figures, four disci- 
ples of Jesus and two leaders of the early church. Here the 
order runs from back to front, beginning with the best- 
known of Jesus' disciples, Simon Peter. 

The names of the twelve disciples are listed in the Gospels 
of Matthew, Mark, and Luke and in the Acts of the Apostles. 
It is not by accident that Peter's name heads each list. It's 
first because he was considered a leader by the other eleven 
disciples, as well as by those who were part of the church in 
those early years, probably including some New Testament 

Peter was a natural-born leader. In any group, he auto- 


He Kept Having To Start All Over Again — 7 

matically emerged as the dominant person. Just as a cork 
comes to the top of water, so Peter came to the top in any 
assemblage. Some people have this personality trait. Some 
do not. Peter was born with it. He was an extrovert long 
before that word was coined. No wall flower, no shrinking 
violet was Peter! 

In any gathering, Peter was the first to speak, the first to 
act. He had what we call ''foot-in-mouth" disease. He left it 
up to his friends to look before they leaped, but he insisted 
on leaping and then looking. All four Gospels and the Book 
of Acts give us this picture of Peter — impulsive, often 
irresponsibly so. 

Jesus knew all these things about his disciples. He was 
aware of Peter's self-assurance, his eagerness to express 
himself. He also knew of Peter's remarkable leadership 
ability; no one was more familiar with his hotheaded ex- 
citability. There is no one word to describe a man with such a 
varied personality — impulsive, steady, impetuous, loyal, 
treacherous, trustworthy. Peter was all of these. 

Let's pick out three characteristics of this first disciple 
that may very well paint a portrait of any one of us. Peter was 
valiant. Peter was vacillating. Peter was victorious. 

To say a person is valiant is to say that he is brave, 
courageous, stout-hearted. That was Peter! 

When Peter saw Jesus walking by the Sea of Galilee and 
heard him say to him and his brother Andrew, 'Tollow me 
and I will make you fishers of men," he dropped his net and 
straightway followed him. I don't think this was a quick 
decision, for I believe Peter had heard about the Nazarene 
leader and had probably heard what the Baptizer said con- 
cerning this Messiah. When the invitation came, Peter de- 
cided right then to follow. He didn't toy with the idea for a 
month or two and finally consent with reluctance. He did not 
plead for time to think it over, weigh all the hazards in- 
volved, or meditate on the personal sacrifices this would 
involve. Peter was a man of action who responded readily, 
"If you can use me, let's go." 

We all applaud the person who is capable of a clear-cut, 
straight-from-the-shoulder decision without a lot of if s, 
and's, and but's. We like a leader who can spell out the 


He Kept Having To Start All Over Again — 7 

project and put it all down clearly. We admire the person 
who, once a decision is made, stands by it! 

One night the disciples were in a boat out on the Galilean 
Sea. A storm came up and the little boat was being tossed 
about. Jesus appeared, walking on the water. They thought 
they were seeing a ghost and cried out in fear. Jesus calmed 
them as well as the stormy sea. Peter said, ''Lord, if that is 
you, let me come over on the water." When Jesus told him 
to come, he plunged in. That's what we expect from a 
valiant, courageous person like Peter. The less courageous 
cling to what they think they can be sure of, but the valiant 
are willing to walk on choppy waters if Jesus says the word. 

When Jesus was being arrested in the Garden of 
Gethsemane, one of the soldiers grabbed him. Determined 
to protect his master, Peter whipped out his sword, ready for 
a fight. Jesus told him that wasn't the way to do things, but 
we have to admire this disciple who was not going to stand 
idly by and see his master physically abused. Peter's only 
thought was for Jesus' safety. 

We could find many other examples of Peter's boldness. 
He had the courage and the conviction to take any action 
that would support the cause to which he had given his 
allegiance. He was valiant in his commitment to Christ. 

That is, however, not the whole story. Peter was also 
impetuous and impulsive. He had a tendency to fly off the 
handle, to act first and think later. He was valiant, but also 
vacillating. To vacillate means to fluctuate, to waver in mind 
or opinion. When Peter found himself going too far or too 
fast in one direcfion, he would backtrack, retreat, and go in 
the opposite direcfion. To correct any tendency to lean too 
far one way, he would lean too far the other way. 

This character trait is most evident at the Last Supper. 
Jesus had listened to two of his disciples request seats of 
honor. To demonstrate that service, not honor, is the 
hallmark of life in the kingdom, Jesus began to wash the feet 
of those twelve followers. This was something only servants 
did. When Jesus approached Peter with the basin and the 
towel, Peter said, ''Lord, you shall never wash my feet." 
Jesus may have explained that the spirit of humility is basic, 
and all followers must be willing to serve. "Peter, if you will 


He Kept Having To Start All Over Again — 7 

not let me wash your feet, I have failed to make you under- 
stand." So Peter blurted out, 'Then don't just wash my feet 
but my hands and head as well." He went from one extreme 
to the other. At first he wouldn't participate at all, and then 
he required a whole bath. 

Can't we see ourselves here? We go from one extreme to 
the other in our loyalty and our commitment. We run hot or 
cold and can't even be depended on to remain either way for 

The classic example of Peter's vacillating was his denial, 
his three-time declaration that he didn't even know Jesus. In 
the upper room when the Master told his followers that they 
would all desert him the next day, Peter spoke right up. 
''Not I, Lord," he said. "Maybe these others, but not I. I'll 
never run away from you even if it means I have to die." 
Within a few hours, he stood in the yard outside the court- 
room and denied any association with Jesus. He vacillated 
from proud boasting to desertion. 

Is there any one of us who cannot identify with this 
characteristic? We make commitments in a worship service 
that we carelessly deny when the pressure is on from family, 
social group, or business. We may subscribe to an ethical 
standard that we find easy to compromise if it threatens our 

Peter is not a saint in a stained glass window. He is one of 
us, vacillating, fluctuating, wavering. 

We don't want to forget that Peter was also victorious. 
What a victory for him on Easter morning when the angel 
said to the women, "He is risen. He is not here. Go your 
way. Tell his disciples and Peter." That message must have 
given the despairing disciple new life. Two days before he 
had denied knowing Jesus, but here is the master calling him 
by name, forgiving his denial, and believing in him again. 

Any one of us can rise out of shame and hopelessness if we 
know God is with us, has forgiven us, needs and depends on 

Another sign of Peter's victory occurred a few days after 
the resurrection. The disciples who were fishermen went 
back to work. After fishing all night and catching nothing, at 
daybreak they heard someone on the shore say, "Fish on the 


He Kept Having To Start All Over Again — 7 

other side of the boat." When they did, they had more fish 
than they could haul in. John whispered to Peter, "That's 
the Lord." Peter, as we would expect, jumped into the cold 
water and waded ashore to greet him. When they had eaten 
breakfast, Jesus asked Peter, ''Do you love me?" "Yes, I 
love you. Lord," was his answer. "Then feed my sheep, 
Peter." And Peter did. He rolled up his sleeves and went to 
work. The Book of Acts tells of his untiring efforts, and his 
sermon in Jerusalem on the power of Jesus was indicative of 
how that power changed his own life. 

There is a legend that tells how Peter came to Rome years 
later when the Christians were being severely persecuted. 
He saw men and women being burned to death. He saw them 
being eaten by wild animals. His first impulse was to run 
away. As he started out of the city, Peter met a man carrying 
a cross. He asked him, ''Quo vadis?'' The man answered, 
"I'm going to Rome to be crucified with my Lord." Peter 
turned in his tracks and headed back into the city. That was 
the last time he vacillated in his faith, the last time he had to 
start all over again. The legend says he was crucified. But 
before they put him on the cross, Peter insisted on being 
nailed upside down. He felt unworthy to imitate his master 
in that final hour. 

Valiant and vacillating, Peter was at last crowned with 
victory. His story could well be ours because we, too, have 
to keep starting all over again, but God can take our ordinary 
lukewarm commitment and make us extraordinarily valiant 
and victorious like Peter. 



James 3:13-18 


Practice What You Preach 

''Would you come to the general meeting of the United 
Methodist Women and install our new officers?" 

''At the June meeting of our Methodist Men the new 
officers are taking over, and I'd like for you to install them. " 

"Could you be with the Cokesbury Class on January the 
fifth and install the new officers?" 

These are some of the requests that often come to me from 
organizations and classes within the church. 

In each case, I've found that there are at least four officers 
who are to be charged with their responsibility: president, 
vice-president, secretary, and treasurer. At most installa- 
tions I say something about the administrative ability of 
these persons and the decisions they will have to make, 
because a larger group would have difficulty doing so. It is 
usually true that the president of a group or class depends on 
the executive officers to help interpret plans and programs, 
so an executive committee is essential. 

There are three men who might be identified as the execu- 
tive committee of the disciples of Jesus. At the beginning of 
his ministry, Jesus chose twelve men to form that apostolic 
group. Three of the twelve seemed to be members of an 
inner circle. I gather, from reading the Gospels, that those 
three were more closely associated with Jesus than the other 
nine, and perhaps were the ones to interpret his plans and 
programs to the rest. Their names always appear first in any 
list, and in the sanctuary of Edenton Street United Meth- 
odist Church we find them standing side by side in three 
stained glass windows. They are Peter, James, and John. 


Practice What You Preach — 8 

As we study one of these, James, we find that there are 
some things we know about him. He was a son of Zebedee 
and a brother of John. He earned his Hving as a fisherman 
and was in the fishing business with his father and brother. 
His name usually comes third or fourth on the list of disci- 

He is called James the Greater to distinguish him from 
another disciple by the same name, designated as the Les- 

I call him a member of the executive committee, along 
with Peter and John, because it seems that Jesus selected the 
three of them to be with him on special occasions. Whenever 
he was making a decision or facing a crisis, Jesus had these 
three with him. In one town an official asked Jesus to go to 
his home immediately because his daughter was desperately 
sick. Before they arrived, someone came with the news that 
the little girl was unconscious. They thought she was dead. 
Jesus told the other disciples to stay where they were and 
took only the executive committee to the official's home. 
There James saw Jesus respond not only to the needs of a 
child, but also to a family shaken with fear and grief. At a 
crucial point in his ministry the master took his committee of 
three up on a hillside. There I think Jesus tried to explain his 
real mission to them. They were so overwhelmed at those 
innermost secrets that they wanted to stay on the hillside 
and build tabernacles. Such a mission was sure to be safe in 
that isolated spot, but might become contaminated if the 
world became involved in it. James was made aware that one 
doesn't stay isolated in the ethereal, but walks into every 
area of life, showing what living close to God means. Then 
there was the time when the members of that executive 
committee felt they could question their leader about a 
timetable. They were interested, as were all the Jewish 
people, in when the Kingdom of God was to arrive. Would it 
be next week, or next year, or sometime in the far future? 
What signs were they to look for? Wars? Earthquakes? 
Changes in the sky? Jesus offered no schedule, but only the 
advice to be ready at all times: "If you are always ready, 
then you won't worry about dates and calendars; you'll be 
too busy at what needs to be done." (Mark 13:33-37) James 


Practice What You Preach — 8 

must have been very impressed with that advice. When 
Jesus left the upper room after the Last Supper and went to 
the Garden of Gethsemane, he instructed the disciples to sit 
around the campfire, but asked those three to come with him 
a bit further into the garden. He told Peter, James, and John 
that his heart was broken. He wanted them close by because 
he felt that his mission was a failure, for everything he had 
dreamed for the world was failing. I surmise that James must 
have sensed those feelings. Perhaps he remembered those 
occasions when he had completely misunderstood what 
Jesus was trying to do. 

Do you remember the time when Jesus told his disciples 
he must go to Jerusalem? To go from Galilee in the north to 
Jerusalem in the south, one had to pass through the foreign 
territory of Samaria. No love was lost between the Samari- 
tans and the Jews. Jesus sent the executive committee ahead 
to make the necessary preparations for food and lodging. By 
this time, his popularity was widespread, and one of the 
villages in Samaria refused them accommodations because 
the radical rabbi might upset things. When James and his 
brother were given the news, they wanted to blast that little 
town off the face of the earth. ''Let's call down fire from 
heaven and burn it up," was the advice they offered Jesus. 
''Everyone has a choice," Jesus told those two rebellious 
men. "You are to live so that your life will make the choice 
easier for others. You don't annihilate people because they 
don't choose my way of life." As they walked along, Jesus 
explained to James that people will always make excuses for 
not following. We can imagine his Master saying, "The 
important thing is, James, once you have put your mind to it, 
then make sure your life shows it." 

Right before Palm Sunday, James and his brother made an 
unusual request. "Master, we want you to do something 
special for us," they said in unison. 

"What is it you want me to do?" Jesus asked. 

"Give us permission to sit at your side in the glory of your 
kingdom," they asked boldly. 

Too often, when we are included in the decision-making 
process, we have exalted opinions of ourselves. After years 
of being one of the selected three, James must have built up a 


Practice What You Preach — 8 

lot of self-assurance. Even when Jesus asked him if he could 
undergo all that he himself had to endure, James felt confi- 
dent that he could. When Jesus said something about 
servanthood, James realized that the place he had asked for 
would not exalt him, but would require that he be a servant. 

Following the resurrection, James became one of the 
leaders of the early church. He died before any of the other 
twelve, save Judas. King Herod had him put to death be- 
cause he dared to pattern his life after Jesus'. 

That is all we know about James the Greater. From this 
glimpse of his discipleship, there is one thing that stands out. 
Through all of his intimate contact with the Lord, James 
seems to be aware that the quality of one's life is far more 
important than creeds or dogma. He saw Jesus put love first, 
a love that was lived out, not merely talked about. In view of 
this, it is enlightening to read the New Testament book that 
bears James' name. The five brief chapters read like a ser- 
mon. One of the Bible commentaries says that an excellent 
way to make use of the book is to read it from the pulpit. 

We do not know who wrote the Book of James. There are 
many possibilities, since the author identifies himself simply 
as ''James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ." 
One of the possibilities, since it so clearly resembles a ser- 
mon, is that it is an example of James' preaching. 

Someone could have taken it down as he preached, trans- 
lated it into Greek, added a little here and there, and then 
issued it to the church so that all its members might possess 
it and benefit from it. That becomes more than a possibility 
when we think of the content of the book in light of how 
James viewed the ministry of Jesus. Having been part of the 
executive committee and having seen how service ranked so 
high with the Master, James knew the key to a happy life is 
service. I think James, perhaps more than Peter and the 
others, and surely more than Paul, was able to make clear 
how explicit Jesus was when he said we are to be judged 
solely on the basis of how we treat others. Jesus never said a 
word about dogma or creed when he talked about a last 
judgment; his only criterion was how we have acted toward 
and treated others. 

In James, we find three ideas lifted up. The first is a need 


Practice What You Preach — 8 

to be genuine. We must not just pretend to be followers. If 
our loyalty is divided, the instability of our life will show it. If 
we really have the faith, we don't have to talk about it 
constantly; it will be seen in the way we live. 

The book stresses our credentials as disciples, such as 
obedience, impartiality, integrity, discipline, humility, and 
patience. James said that one sure sign of a person's religion 
is how he controls his speech, his words, his tongue. A 
word, he knew, is like a bullet, leaving an indelible impact on 
the human tissue. 

James also felt that a disciple should never neglect the 
resource of prayer. Whatever the problem — suffering, 
sickness, sin, frustration — the ''prayer of faith" puts the 
disciple in touch with the ultimate source of help. 

To be genuine, to use our Christian credentials wisely, 
and to take advantage of the goodly resource of prayer could 
well have been James' sermon outline. His preaching was 
authentic, for having been a part of that inner circle of 
disciples, James knew the way of Jesus: Practice what you 
preach! We will discover that if we do, it will change our 
ordinary ''me first" philosophy into day-to-day, sometimes 
tedious service, but the end result will be an extraordinarily 
happy life. 



John 21:20-25 


The Transformation of an 
Ordinary Man 

Have you ever thought of how much erasing we would 
have to do if we were to take out of all historical records 
everyone whose first name is or was John? The New Testa- 
ment is filled with significant persons by that name: John the 
Baptist, John the Apostle, John Mark, John the Elder of 
Ephesus. In history books we find John Wycliffe, John 
Calvin, John Knox, John Wesley, John Bunyan, John Mil- 
ton, John Adams, John Kennedy. I looked through a list of 
Methodist ministers in the eastern part of North Carolina 
and found forty-two men named John. John Maides, John 
Smith, John Hobbs, John White, John Crum, John Bergland 
are a few of those . And if we were to erase all Johns from our 
membership rolls, we would take off one hundred and six 
people: John Barfield, John Brooks, John Crawford, John 
Duncan, John Gilbert, John Glover, John Harris, John 
Koonce, John Kirby, John Lane, John Means, John 
Morisey, John Moore, John Sutherland, John Wiley, and 
others . There would be a big hole left in the record of human 
history, and in the membership of our Methodist Conference 
and Church, if we were to delete all the Johns. 

In almost every group of people we usually find someone 
whose name is John. So we are not surprised, when we look 
over a list of those twelve people selected by Jesus to be his 
disciples, to find a John there. There is an image of the 
Apostle John in one of the sanctuary windows of Edenton 
Street United Methodist Church. The artist evidently knew 
something about John, for he has placed a pen in the right 
hand and a book in the left. According to church tradition, 
this apostle wrote the Gospel that bears his name as well as 
three Epistles and the Revelation to John. 

More is written about John in the Bible than about any 
other apostle, except Peter. Peter, John, and Judas seem to 


The Transformation of an Ordinary Man — 9 

come first to the minds of those asked to see how many 
apostles they can name — Judas as the betrayer and the 
other two because they're the best known. 

I have had one particular aim in mind as I have developed 
these sermons on the Biblical characters in the windows. I 
have tried to show them as real people, as real folks like us. 
This has been easy to do because that is exactly the way they 
are presented in the Bible. They are not saints, in the sense 
in which you and I define saints. They displayed every 
weakness known to the human race: greed, distrust, selfish- 
ness, arrogance, lust, foolishness, revenge, and pride. But 
because each responded to God in Christ, and allowed him 
to turn his weaknesses to strength, God was able to use them 
in fulfilling his purpose. That same thing can happen to us. 
We can respond to God in trust, and their faith can become 
ours. Look at how one man, John, responded. 

We notice first that John had his weaknesses (something 
he had in common with the other eleven). Whenever we run 
across some fault or weakness in the character of a hero or 
heroine, we remark that we knew they must have feet of 
clay. So did John. If to make an error is human, there is no 
doubt that John was very human. 

For example, have you ever thought of John as having the 
earmarks of a bigot? He was prejudiced about his own way 
of doing things. He thought that only that little band of 
disciples could be the instruments of God. John came to 
Jesus once and announced: ''We found a man driving out 
demons in your name. I told him to stop doing that because 
he doesn't belong to our group." He was so attached to his 
particular group that he couldn't see the good anyone else 
was doing. 

That's a very modern fault, for we are all prone to be 
prejudiced. Labor unions are often so dedicated to their own 
creeds that anything coming from management is immedi- 
ately branded as false. That also works in reverse. The 
current J. P. ^Stevens controversy between union and man- 
agement is evidence of such thought patterns. We have 
political cliques that assume they are the sole defenders of 
the finest traditions of the American way of life or the only 
ones who advance the nation's cause. Anyone who is not a 


The Transformation of an Ordinary Man — 9 

part of their particular group is called either a liberal or 
conservative, depending on which group the defender be- 
longs to. Unfortunately, in an age in which there is more 
cooperation and understanding within areas of the Christian 
faith, there are still religious groups that thrive on creating 
shadows of mistrust, and would have us think the institu- 
tional church is corrupt. Individually we all have a host of 
prefixed ideas about certain people, places, things and even 
foods. (I have never been able to convince my wife that 
chitterlings are a delicacy.) 

John had a quick temper, too. At times he became so 
provoked that he became openly angry. The natives of a 
little town in Samaria wouldn't let the disciples make reser- 
vations for overnight lodging. That made John so mad: Who 
did those Samaritans think they were? Why, they were 
nothing but a mongrel race of degenerate Israelites, thought 
John. He wanted to call down fire from heaven right on the 
spot and burn that little town and all its heathens off the face 
of the earth. Jesus told John that revenge has no place in the 
Christian life. We should never despise people even though 
we loathe what they do or say. Two wrongs can never make 
a right. Love the sinner, Jesus advised, and hate the sin. 

John also let his ambition get out of hand. He asked Jesus 
to let him have one of the chief seats in his kingdom. John 
was simply saying that if any honors for doing the work of 
Jesus were to be passed out, he wanted to get his just 
reward. According to the standards of the world there was 
nothing wrong with that request. However, Jesus had to 
remind John that the chief seats are not for those who seek 
them, but for those who served without thought or hope of 
reward. Those who seek rewards serve themselves, not 
God. I don't think John fully comprehended all of this until 
long after the resurrection. 

I think John's prejudice, temper, and misguided ambition 
show how human he was. 

Now let's move to a positive aspect of this disciple. John 
was a worker. He didn't mind rolling up his sleeves and 
doing whatever was needed. 

Being a part of the executive committee, that inner circle 
of disciples along with Peter and James, John went every- 


The Transformation of an Ordinary Man — 9 

where with Jesus. He went to the home of a town official to 
look after a sick child. He went with Jesus up the mountain 
and was part of the transfiguration experience. He was with 
Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, and although unable to 
stay awake, he did stay close by. He was one of his master's 
constant companions. After the resurrection, when the dis- 
ciples began to live again, John was second in command. 
The first nine chapters of Acts are an account of the labors of 
Peter and John. He also wrote a biographical sketch of the 
spiritual nature of Jesus (The Gospel According to John), a 
religious tract and two letters (I, II, and III John), and in- 
spired a book to encourage Christians to keep the faith in the 
face of trial and persecution (The Revelation to John). 

We used to think that teaching a class or serving a meal or 
being an elected officer were our only avenues of doing the 
work of the church. I am glad that concept has changed. We 
actually are the church in action when we integrate God's 
Word into our workshops, for it is most effective when it is 
carried on in the home, at the office, at school, where we 

It has been pointed out that the greatest danger to the 
church is neither communism nor socialism but sleepwalk- 
ing. Too often, those of us who claim the way of Christ seem 
to be walking around in a dream, not knowing where we are 
going or why, and caring little whether or not we arrive. John 
and those people of the early church knew that the risen 
Christ had the ability to redeem and change life, and so they 
urgently went about the work of letting everyone know what 
could happen to them, who they could become. 

I cannot remember where I read this or the theologian who 
wrote it, but it says well what we're meant to be. ''When 
God wanted sponges and oysters, he made them and put one 
on a rock and the other in the mud. When he made people, he 
did not make them sponges or oysters. He made them with 
feet, hands, hearts, vital blood, and places to use them, and 
said, 'Go, work!' " 

We've seen the weaknesses of this disciple, which helps 
us identify with him. We've seen his willingness to work, 
which also helps. Now let's consider the thing that perhaps 
most of us remember best about him, his tenderness. 


The Transformation of an Ordinary Man — 9 

We wonder how this man, whose prejudice and anger 
would make him want to destroy a whole town, could be- 
come the calm, devoted, understanding disciple whom Jesus 
loved. It's interesting to know that John went back to 
Samaria, possibly to that same town, preached about the 
compassionate Christ and laid his hands on those people so 
that they might be aware that God's spirit was there. John 
had learned much through his association with Jesus. His 
prejudice, selfishness, and bigotry were transformed into 
devotion, affection, and tenderness. 

This tender quality of his personality can be seen in two 
events. At the Last Supper, Jesus was expressing sorrow 
that one of his disciples would betray him. As the others 
were asking, "Who is it?" John, sitting next to Jesus, leaned 
over and embraced him. In that moment of great anxiety, he 
seemed to sense that Jesus needed the comfort of physical 
touch. Jesus must have received courage from that display 
of affection. Then at the crucifixion, one of the last words 
Jesus spoke was addressed to John, asking that he look after 
his mother. Joseph, her husband, had been dead a long time 
and Jesus, as the oldest son, had probably been head of the 
family. Mary had leaned on him for support, and in her old 
age, she needed support more than ever. Jesus knew his 
mother would miss the touch of his hand, his voice, his 
prayers. So he committed her to John, that tender disciple. 

Tenderness is a great asset. Fortunately, it has now come 
to be considered a manly asset. We no longer think of it as a 
weakness, but as a strengthening force in life, possible only 
for those who are really strong. 

When we look at the image of John in stained glass, we can 
take courage because he shows us it is possible to move from 
ordinary weakness to extraordinary strength. John wrote in 
his gospel about his great discovery that Jesus is the Bread of 
Life, the Light of the World, the Door, the Vine, the Way, 
the Truth, the Resurrection — the Life. Because John, a 
human being just like us, discovered it, so can we! 



John 6:1-13 


He Needs Us Ordinary Folks 

In the recent past, there have been two very compelling 
personalities in the political life of the south: Martin Luther 
King, Jr. and George W. Wallace. We would never have 
expected these two men to agree on anything, for they were 
in direct opposition to each other. And yet, in reading about 
them, I have found that there was one thing on which they 
did agree. In two brief excerpts from their speeches, this 
common philosophy is clear. 

To a group of his followers. Dr. King made this statement: 
"You are good. I came over here to tell you that you are 
somebody. You may not know the difference between 'you 
does' and 'you don't,' but you are as good as any white 
person in this country." In a speech to a white middle-class 
audience. Governor Wallace said almost the same thing: 
'They look down on us, and call us rednecks. But I'll tell 
you, when they write against us and say those things, it's just 
one person writing. And you're one person, too, just as good 
as he is." 

These men, whom we would never expect to agree, are 
discovered saying the same thing. They both stated that 
people who feel pushed aside, forgotten, despised, or 
neglected really do count and are really important after all. 

In early church history there was a day set aside to re- 
member men and women whose names were unknown. All 
Saints' Day is still observed in some churches, falling on the 
first day of November. We remember outstanding and im- 
portant personalities like Peter, Paul, John, Augustine, St. 
Francis, and Thomas Aquinas, but there are a multitude of 
anonymous people who have contributed to the Christian 
faith. In order to recall the contributions of those persons, 
whose names are known only to God, the church established 
All Saints' Day. 


He Needs Ordinary Folks — 10 

Each of us is known and loved by God as a distinct and 
individual person who has a part to play in God's plan and 
purpose. However, when we measure our part by that of 
someone else, we become discouraged. We may feel, for 
example, when we look at the people shown in the windows 
of Edenton Street United Methodist Church, that we could 
never match their contributions. Why, who of us could ever 
be as dedicated as Enoch, or as enthusiastic as Isaiah, or as 
faithful as Abraham, or as brave as David? Peter, James, and 
John were real decision makers, leaders, writers — and we 
feel we could never measure up to them. St. Paul, with his 
rare theological genius, not only had understanding but also 
commitment far beyond ours. 

Let's be honest and admit that we are unequal in many 
ways. Human differences and inequalities are a fact. We are 
not equally attractive or good-looking or intelligent or sensi- 
tive or virtuous. The Biblical characters surrounding the 
sanctuary were not all on the same level, nor were they all as 
virtuous as we may suppose. There is one disciple whose 
image might be there to show us this inequality, and to 
remind us that each is known and loved by God as a distinct 
and individual person no matter what his or her talents. 
Andrew may be the one person in the whole group with 
whom we can readily and easily identify. 

What do we know about Andrew? I would make a guess 
that few of us realize that he was the first disciple to be called 
into that intimate fellowship. Andrew and a friend of his 
were young fishermen in Bethsaida. They heard about John 
the Baptist preaching on the shores of the Jordan River, near 
Bethany. Eager to hear and see what John was saying and 
doing, the two young men made the eighty-mile trip to 
Bethany. There they met Jesus and spent some time with 
him. We have no record of their conversation, but because 
of it Andrew had the profound conviction that Jesus was the 
Messiah. He went home and told his brother, Peter, and his 
friends, James and John, about finding the Christ. When 
Jesus came to the area around the Sea of Galilee, those three 
were ready to follow him because Andrew had already in- 
troduced them to Jesus. 

We would think, from that account, that Andrew would 


He Needs Ordinary Folks — W 

have been on the executive committee of the disciples, but 
he was not. When Jesus went to the home of Jairus and 
ministered to his daughter, he took Peter, James, and John, 
but not Andrew. Peter, James, and John were invited to go 
with Jesus up the mountain and were given a vision of his 
glory, but Andrew stayed in the valley with the other disci- 
ples. At the time of agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, 
Andrew was not with Peter, James, and John. 

There may have been a number of reasons that Andrew 
was not an officer. He didn't have the leadership qualities 
his brother had, nor was he a spiritual genius like John or a 
writer like James. However, we do violence to a man's 
personality when we ask him to become the kind of person 
he's not equipped to become. We must allow each person to 
be what he or she is. There is no indication that Andrew 
resented not being elected; he simply kept doing well what 
he knew how to do. It is evident from the three times he is 
mentioned in the Gospels that Andrew knew how to intro- 
duce people to Christ. None of these introductions were 
spectacular in the sense of being an evangelistic crusade or a 
program aimed at increasing church membership, but each 
profoundly affected the lives of those he persuaded. 

The first has already been mentioned. Andrew went to 
Bethany, heard the Baptist preach, talked with Jesus, and 
then went home to tell his brothers and his friends about the 

The second incident was the feeding of the five thousand. 
We all remember this, but do we recall what part Andrew 
played in it? That multitude had spent the entire day at a 
picnic area by the Sea of Galilee. They had come to hear 
Jesus teach and had been listening for hours to his words. In 
the late afternoon, they were obviously tired and hungry. 
The nearest town was a mile and a half away. Jesus knew the 
people had physical as well as spiritual needs, and if they 
started home without nourishment, they would faint. He 
could not dismiss them under those conditions, so he asked 
Philip if there was enough food around to feed them. ''It 
would take over $200.00 worth of bread to feed this crowd," 
Philip responded. Amid the awkward pause that followed, 


He Needs Ordinary Folks — 10 

Andrew said, 'There is a boy here who has five loaves of 
bread and two fish." 

How do you suppose Andrew knew about that boy and his 
''sardine sandwiches"? Perhaps seeing that the lad was 
alone, Andrew gave him a friendly smile, shook hands with 
him, and explained to him the words of Jesus. After they 
became acquainted, the boy may have taken his lunch out of 
his hip pocket and offered to share it with his new-found 
friend. I've heard we can trust any person who is followed 
by children and stray dogs. 

Andrew was doing his usual thing that afternoon, estab- 
lishing a trust relationship with a young boy, and not con- 
cerned about directing traffic or making executive decisions 
or being pointed out as one of the twelve. He was a distinct 
person who had a part to play in God' s plan, and evidently he 
played it well for he was ready with the necessary resources 
that afternoon on a hillside. 

Andrew's unique ability to introduce people to Christ was 
recognized by the other disciples, for the third such incident 
was in Jerusalem a day or so after Palm Sunday. Among the 
folks gathering in the Holy City for the Passover Festival 
were some Greeks. Greeks were known for their interest in 
any new truth. Their seeking minds sent them from teacher 
to teacher, from religion to religion, from philosophy to 
philosophy. They may have seen the acclaim Jesus was 
given when he entered the city and how he had driven the 
merchants out of the temple. Wishing to know more about 
him they went to Philip, whose Greek name led them to 
believe that he would listen sympathetically. When they 
asked for an interview with Jesus, Philip didn't know what to 
do, so he asked Andrew. Andrew had no doubts; he knew 
from experience that the Master was ready to see any seeker 
and never considered any person a nuisance. He went 
straight to Jesus with their request. 

This insight into Andrew's life may help us realize that 
every one of us is distinct and has a unique part to play. We 
may not be a leading character like Joseph and David, or like 
Peter and John. They were "the greats," and most of us are 
not "the greats," but we are still vital to God's plan. 


He Needs Ordinary Folks — 10 

If we were to write the history of any church, we would 
surely include certain names. The founders, the leaders, and 
the preachers would all loom large. If we were to write a 
history of the early Christian disciples, Peter, James, and 
John would definitely appear in the first paragraph. But in 
the historical record of any church as in disciple history, 
there would be the Andrews, the members who were never 
in the spotlight, or involved in policy making, or on the 
executive council. Those persons, like Andrew, are the 
good teachers, the dependable workers, the loyal worship- 
pers, the faithful stewards. The Bible calls them the rem- 
nant. Jesus calls them the salt of the earth. 

There have been a lot of Andrews in the churches I have 
served over the last twenty-five years. Their names, even 
now, flash through my mind. Most of us can name many of 
these disciples. Let me tell the story of one I've read about. 

Wenonah was a member of a United Methodist Church in 
Indianapolis, Indiana. We wouldn't find any great and out- 
standing accomplishments listed by her name if we looked 
through the historical record of that church. I read about her 
in a book her minister wrote. The theme of the book was 
striving to carry out a ministry wherever we are. He in- 
cluded a few paragraphs about Wenonah, ''the most beau- 
tiful Christian saint I have ever known." 

After an automobile accident in which her father was 
killed, Wenonah felt responsible for the physical and finan- 
cial welfare of her mother. They confinued to live in their 
home, despite the fact that the white, middle-class area was 
succumbing to urbanization and also beginning to be 
predominantly black. One Sunday afternoon, after she had 
returned home from church, Wenonah saw three little black 
children playing on the street in front of her home. She 
invited them in, read them Bible stories, and served them 
lemonade and cookies. That was the first session of an 
outpost Sunday School, which met every week thereafter. 

One of the youngsters in the class was Stephenia, a six- 
year-old who was dying of leukemia. Wenonah went to see 
her often. When Stephenia was hospitalized in the last 
stages of her illness, Wenonah asked the minister of her 
church to stop by her room when he made his visits to the 


He Needs Ordinary Folks — 10 

hospital . When he arrived at the hospital , he found Wenonah 
there, along with Stephenia's parents. They talked quietly a 
few minutes because the little girl was so weak. As he was 
leaving, the minister asked if they could pray together. 
Stephenia answered "yes," reached out for Wenonah's 
hand and asked her to pray. Wenonah was her minister (her 
Andrew), for she had introduced Stephenia to Jesus. 

Later Wenonah had surgery for a malignant tumor. For a 
time it looked as though it was successful, but the tumor 
reoccurred. She had to quit her job, was confined to bed, and 
died within a few short weeks. Just before the funeral, the 
minister was given a letter from some of Wenonah' s black 
neighbors. It read: 

''We, the neighbors of Winthrop Avenue, wish to 
express our deep and heartfelt sympathy. We 
would like for you to know that we, too, have lost a 
friend. But our loss is sure heaven's gain. We are 
proud to have known her, her Christian work, and 
her saintly way of living. We saw her daily and not 
once did we see her without that smile that only a 
child of God could wear. She was the founder of 
our children's Sunday School. It was never too hot 
or too cold to see her going about the neighborhood 
winning children's hearts to Jesus. We could go on 
and on telling of the good things she stood for." 

Wenonah was a distinct individual, doing what she could 
best do. She was an Andrew. 

I am glad that Andrew's image is included in the windows 
of Edenton Street Church. It tells us that Christ needs us 
ordinary folks and has faith in our abilities to work quietly 
and effectively for him, at whatever we do best. That's what 
makes the church extraordinary! 



Acts 6:1-7:60 


Why Settle for Less? 

Some months ago the trustees of Wake Forest University 
and the officers of the North CaroHna Baptist Convention 
were involved in a disagreement. They had to decide 
whether or not to accept a grant from the federal government 
for the construction of a science building. The trustees had 
given their consent. The convention, holding to the doctrine 
of separation of church and state, wanted to return the 
money. Because of that dissension a whole new decision had 
to be made on who holds control of the University, the 
trustees or the Convention. 

The Episcopal Church is experiencing internal strife 
about the ordination of women and the revision of the Book 
of Common Prayer. The latter, containing the rituals for 
sacrament, ceremonies, and other services, was accepted 
by the church in 1 789. It was revised fifty years ago and now 
has been altered again. Considering the controversy sur- 
rounding the latest change, I feel sure the earlier revision 
also caused some rifts. 

The Board of Church and Society, the Board of Global 
Ministries, and some other general agencies of our United 
Methodist Church have declared that none of their meetings 
shall be held in any state that has not ratified the Equal 
Rights Amendment. This is a source of our current denomi- 
national discord. 

We find the Presbyterian Church, because of its theologi- 
cal stance, severed by differences between the conservative 
and the liberal. Whether Mass should be celebrated in Latin 
or English arouses some communicants in Roman Catholi- 
cism. Every church body has recently faced or is still facing 
the controversial issue of ordination of those persons pro- 
fessing to be homosexual. 

There has been, and I imagine there always will be, dis- 


Why Settle for Less?— 11 

agreement, controversy, strife, or whatever name we give it, 
within the church. This is true of every institution. It runs 
from the home to the office to the college to the country club 
to the lodge to the government. Whenever we come to- 
gether, involved in a common pursuit, there will always be 
varying opinions, different thoughts about the way things 
should be done. There will always be some internal strife in 
any institution. 

It was out of such controversy that a man named Stephen 
came to light in the Biblical account. During his earthly life, 
Jesus had been limited by time and geography. He promised 
his followers that they would have his spirit to help carry on 
his work through the church. As the church grew, it began to 
have problems of different opinions and varied thoughts on 
how to conduct its mission. 

One such problem developed early. The Jewish people 
were very benevolent towards and always concerned about 
the poor and the needy. Every sabbath day in the synagogue 
they would receive alms for the poor. In addition to that 
collection, two officials of the synagogue would go to the 
marketplace and to private homes on Friday mornings to 
collect funds and goods for the needy. They, in turn, would 
distribute all of this. 

The early Christian Church was made up of converted 
Jews, and they continued the custom of collecting for the 
poor. Not all of these Jewish Christians were alike. Some, 
born and reared in Palestine, spoke the Hebrew language 
and were proud that their race had been kept pure. They 
called themselves the native Jews, the Hebrew-speaking or 
Palestinian Jews. There were also Jews from foreign coun- 
tries, who had discovered Christ the Messiah at the Feast of 
Pentecost and had stayed in Palestine. Most of them never 
knew or had forgotten Hebrew. Because they were not 
natives and spoke Greek, they were designated as foreign, 
Greek-speaking Jews. The native Jews tended to feel 
superior, and some foreign Jews thought their widows were 
being short-changed in the distribution of the pastor's aid 
fund. They felt discriminated against. 

Instead of letting the matter become worse, with growing 
tension and the threat of a split within the church, the disci- 


Why Settle for Less?— 11 

pies called everybody together. They laid the matter before 
the whole congregation, facing it openly and honestly. To- 
gether they sought the guidance of God. Out of that congre- 
gational meeting a unanimous decision was made. The 
twelve disciples should not be burdened with administrative 
responsibility. They should be free to concentrate on prayer 
and preaching. Some people within the congregation who 
had managerial ability, and who could be trusted to be fair, 
would look after the aid fund. 

That congregational decision ushered Stephen onto the 
Biblical scene, along with six other men. In the list of those 
men, Stephen is described as ''a man unusually full of faith 
and the Holy Spirit." His story is told in two chapters in the 
Book of Acts. It wasn't too long after he assumed adminis- 
trative responsibility in the church that Stephen's work 
began to be noticed. He had spirit, as well as ability, and the 
combination made him an asset. 

There was a group in Jerusalem that organized a 
synagogue for all Greek-speaking Jews. It was known as the 
Synagogue of the Freedmen. Evidently the young church 
found it necessary to debate its faith with these Greek- 
speaking people. Stephen was appointed to represent the 
Christians. The spokesman for the Freedmen couldn't 
''hold a candle" to Stephen's wisdom and spirit. So, in order 
to discredit him, the opposition put up some witnesses who 
said they had heard Stephen make blasphemous statements 
against Moses and against God. This stirred up such a con- 
troversy that Stephen was arrested and brought to trial 
before the Jewish Council. The Freedmen introduced their 
false testimony: ''This man is forever saying things against 
the Temple and against the Law. For we have heard him say 
that Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and alter the 
customs handed down to us by Moses." When the High 
Priest asked Stephen if this were true, Stephen preached a 
sermon, recorded in chapter seven of the Acts of the Apos- 
tles, on how God had unfolded his purpose through the 
patriarchs, and through Moses and through Israel's deliver- 
ance from Egypt, and by the prophets. He did not hesitate to 
point out how rebellious that nation had been at times, 
making idols and trying to confine God to their territory. 


Why Settle for Less?— 11 

Then Stephen, Hke the Old Testament prophet Amos, 
brought his message home to his hearers: ''You are just as 
stubborn, just as heathen at heart and deaf to the truth as our 
forefathers," he preached. ''You always fight against the 
Holy Spirit. Your fathers persecuted the prophets who told 
of the Messiah's coming, and now you have betrayed and 
killed him." 

The listeners became so angry that they stopped up their 
ears and refused to listen. Then, in their rage, they rushed on 
Stephen, dragged him out of the city and stoned him to 
death. He made a cry similar to a cry Jesus had made at his 
execution: "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." 
Stephen, through all these centuries, has been designated as 
the first Christian martyr, the first person who died for what 
he believed and said about Jesus Christ. 

We have been able to identify with the persons we see in 
the stained glass windows of Edenton Street United 
Methodist Church. From Enoch, whose life encourages us 
to be aware of God's presence each day, all the way to 
Andrew, whose simple lifestyle can be our own, we have 
made the amazing discovery that our own images could be in 
those windows. These Old and New Testament persons are 
no different from us. Stephen, however, may be a different 
story. How do we cast ourselves into the role of martyr? 
None of us has been persecuted or threatened with death 
because of what we believe, and certainly not because of any 
verbal witness to our faith. We may have been slighted or 
snubbed, even by other church members, but not to the 
point of being excommunicated, and surely not stoned with 
anything other than words or attitudes. 

Maybe we should remember Stephen for his character 
more than for his martyrdom. His character was evident in 
the confidence the early church placed in him by selecting 
him for an administrative position and as its chief debater on 
theological issues. His attitude toward those who caused his 
premature death, praying that such a gross injustice not be 
held against them, says a lot about Stephen's love. Luke 
declares that his life was also filled with God's spirit, with 
wisdom, faith, grace, power. Those were the attributes that 
made him respected, admired, trusted. 


Why Settle for Less?— 11 

Our lives are filled with something, some of it good and 
some of it not so good. But whatever is inside of us finds a 
way of expression. Jesus warned us about the ''inside of a 
cup,'' the inside of a life. What is on the inside makes or 
destroys us. Keith Miller writes of a woman whose life was 
colored by the self-pity that ruled her. A television show 
recently portrayed how a man's wife lived with him for years 
before she discovered that what she had thought was his 
ambition was really greed. What's hidden within us is al- 
ways eventually revealed. 

The Biblical writers spot a lot of us when they point out 
some of our inner attitudes that destroy us. Some of us are 
''full of bitterness." (Job 21:25) We have grown sour on 
people, situations, institutions, life in general. We exhale 
bitterness with almost every breath. If nothing is positive 
with us, we give voice only to the negative. 

Paul speaks of people whose "mouths are full of curses". 
(Romans 3:14) Our inward cursing is bound to come out, 
whether we realize it or not. He gives us a list in Romans of 
things that can fill life and thus distort it: "greed, hate, envy, 
fighting, jealousy, lying, gossip". (1:29) Scripture talks 
about lives that are full of confusion, violence, selfishness, 
trickery. Whatever is inside of us finds expression in our 
style of living. 

So maybe it's best for us to remember Stephen for the 
virtues with which he filled his life, and not for his martyr- 
dom. He was a lay person, so full of faith and the Holy Spirit 
that his life was gracious and God-like. He may be saying to 
us, "Why do you continue to resist? Why settle for less than 
Abraham and Joseph and Moses did? Why do you resist 
love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, fidelity, 
gentleness, and self-control — the things that can make life 

If we choose to make the Holy Spirit our guide, God can 
use our ordinary words and actions as an extraordinary 
witness for him. 



Philippians 3:12-15 


With Paul, We'll Keep 
On Trying 

''He is waiting for the same kind of dramatic conversion 
that Paul had before he'll join the church." Those were the 
words she spoke on my first visit to her home. As the new 
minister of that little church, I was going from door to door, 
calling on each Methodist family in order to get to know all 
275 members. My information card read that she was the 
only church member in that family and although I hadn't 
asked, she was explaining to me why her husband had never 
become a member. 

When my new acquaintance mentioned Paul's dramatic 
conversion, I must admit that the only Paul I could think of 
was a man who sang bass in the church choir. Paul not only 
sang, he was also the church lay leader, a member of the 
pastor-parish committee, and a very generous contributor. I 
began to wonder what kind of conversion experience Paul 
Blalock had had and was determined to inquire once I got to 
know him better. Fortunately, before I did confront him 
with my questions, the truth began to seep into that young 
mind of mine: the lady had been talking about the Apostle 
Paul in the Bible, and not Paul Blalock of Fremont! Faintly I 
began to recall reading something about his conversion in 
the Act of the Apostles where it's recorded three times. 

To even attempt to write a sermon that covers the scope of 
Paul's life and his relationship to the faith is a mental and 
physical impossibility. It reminds me of a very prominent 
speaker who was called and requested to make an address. 
The caller asked how much time the speaker would need to 
prepare his speech. 'That depends on how long you want it 
to be," he replied. 'Tf you want me to speak for fifteen 
minutes, give me four weeks to prepare. If you want a 
half-hour speech, I can be ready within a week. If you want 
me to talk an hour, I can come now." I feel that way about 
the Apostle Paul. It would take months of preparation just to 


With Paul, Well Keep On Trying— 12 

digest not only the Biblical material, but also all the volumes 
that have been written about him. 

If we want to read the first biographical sketch of Paul, we 
must begin with chapter nine of the New Testament Book of 
Acts and read the remaining twenty chapters of that book. If 
we want to know how Paul felt about Christ and how he 
thought we should live, we would turn to some of his per- 
sonal correspondence. Paul was a prolific letter-writer, and 
his letters to different churches and individuals are a valu- 
able part of the New Testament. He wrote to churches at 
Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae, Thes- 
salonica, and to his friends Timothy, Titus, and Philemon. 

Paul was the most influential person in the history of the 
early Christian movement. The first glimpse we have of him 
is at a mob scene just outside the walls of the city of 
Jerusalem. Included in that crowd were the high priest, 
members of the Jewish Supreme Court, temple officials, and 
a collection of rabble rousers who are always around when 
tempers flare up or there is some controversial excitement. 
Their leaders had taken off their coats so their arms might be 
free to throw stones at some poor fellow in the middle of that 
uncontrollable mob. The man about to be killed was 
Stephen, one of the known leaders of the Christian group. 
Paul was the bystander who held the assassins' coats and 
watched from the sidelines. This very devout Jew felt it was 
his religious duty to get rid of those spreading the belief that 
Jesus of Nazareth was the crucified Messiah who arose from 
the dead. He did not participate in the murder but lent his 

After the execution that morning, Paul was given orders to 
go north to the little town of Damascus. He was commanded 
to do there what he had just seen done to Stephen in 
Jerusalem. If enough of those religious fanatics could be 
killed, then the rest would voluntarily give up their wild 
belief out of fear for their lives, the Jewish authorities ar- 
gued. On his way to Damascus, something happened to 
Paul. He attempts, on numerous occasions, to describe it: 
''All of a sudden there was a great light surrounding me. It 
was so bright I had to close my eyes. Although the people 
with me heard nothing, I distinctly heard the voice of Jesus 


With Paul, We'll Keep On Trying— 12 

Christ, asking why I was so determined to get rid of the 

That experience on the Damascus Road changed the 
whole direction of Paul's life. He became the protector, 
instead of the persecutor, of the followers of this new reli- 
gious sect. Having hated even to hear the name Jesus, he 
became a preacher and a servant of Christ. Paul underwent a 
complete reversal, moving from villain to hero, from mur- 
derer to missionary. 

After that sudden change, he needed some time to get 
himself adjusted, as well as to let others get used to this new 
man he'd become. His first attempts at preaching there in 
Damascus didn't carry much weight because of his former 
credentials. A brief trip from there to Jerusalem was marred 
by skepticism on the part of the disciples and an attempt on 
his life by enraged Jews. Paul then went to Arabia and into 
seclusion for three years, trying to take in that revelation of 
Christ. After that he went to his hometown of Tarsus, and 
nothing is heard from or about him for seven or eight years. 
It must have been during those years that the home folk saw 
in Paul's daily life the changes that had taken place. There 
was also some talk around the area about him. ''You 
wouldn't know Paul as the same person," people must have 
been saying. ''Why, he speaks differently and he certainly 
acts differently." 

Ten years had passed since Stephen's death and Paul's 
conversion. The Christian Church was growing rapidly 
under the leadership of the disciples and others who had 
joined their ranks. Barnabas, a preacher in a nearby village, 
was so busy that he needed an associate minister, so he went 
to Tarsus and recruited Paul to come and help him. That was 
the beginning of the incredibly active and adventurous 
career of the first Christian missionary. 

The Church in Antioch sent Barnabas and Paul on their 
first journey to spread the Good News. For three years they 
traveled over 1,200 miles throughout Asia teaching and 
preaching. Paul's second trip took him to the continent of 
Europe. In those three subsequent years, Paul was suc- 
cessful in starting new churches at Ephesus, Philippi, Thes- 
salonica, and Corinth. These were the churches to whom he 


With Paul, We II Keep On Trying— 12 

wrote most of his letters. His third great missionary journey 
was a follow-up visit to the churches he had established. 

There was still opposition to the Christian movement, and 
Paul was one of the prime targets. In spite of advice to stay 
away from Jerusalem, a hot bed of antagonism, Paul went to 
the Holy City. He was jailed there and spent two years 
facing trial after trial before the governors. Since he was a 
Roman citizen by birth and no just verdict could be reached 
in the Jerusalem courts, Paul was shipped off to Rome to 
stand trial before Caesar. He used his two years of impris- 
onment there as an opportunity to write letters to his 
churches and his friends. 

That's where the Acts record of his life ends. What re- 
mains of his story is not Biblical. It is legendary, but it has 
some appeal . The tradition is that Paul was released from the 
Roman prison and fulfilled his ambition to go on a mission- 
ary trip to Spain. When he returned to Rome, Nero was 
Caesar and blaming the Christians for everything that went 
wrong. One of Nero's mistresses was won to Christ by 
Paul's preaching, which so infuriated the emperor that he 
had Paul arrested, taken to a public execution place, and 

Dwight L. Moody, an evangelist of the early 1900's, once 
made this statement: ''One of these days you are going to 
hear that I am dead. Don't believe a word of it! For I will be 
more alive then than I have ever been in my life." It was the 
same with the Apostle Paul. His death did not destroy him; it 
only released him into everlasting influence. 

Paul's correspondence was meaningful and helpful to his 
churches and friends in the first century; his ability to put 
into words some of the deep feelings you and I often have is 
also of great value to us today. Romans 8 affirms that 
''nothing can separate us from the love of God." I Corin- 
thians 13 tells us that genuine love "is slow to lose patience, 
is not possessive, is not touchy, has trust and hope." In 
another Corinthian letter, Paul declared "that even when we 
are knocked down, we are not knocked out." "I have fought 
a good fight," he wrote towards the end of his life to a young 
disciple, "I have finished my course." 

Out of all of his writings, let me suggest one thing that will 


With Paul Well Keep On Trying— 12 

help us identify with Paul. He wrote it in his letter to the 
Philippian Church. It was one of his last bits of correspon- 
dence, written while he was a prisoner in Rome. After all 
that this man had accomplished, he wrote, ''I do not con- 
sider that I have arrived spiritually. I do not consider myself 
perfect. I don't feel that I have it all in my grasp. So I stretch 
my hands out to whatever lies ahead of me, and Til keep on 
trying." We can identify with someone who didn't feel that 
he had it all under control, who admitted that he didn't know 
all there was to know, who was willing to acknowledge that 
he was still a learner. 

This is especially true in the faith. We are in danger when, 
unlike Paul, we think we have all the answers. We'd better 
watch out if we ever feel that we have ''arrived" spiritually. 
With all of his experience and knowledge, Paul never felt he 
''had it all together" but kept his heart and mind open to 
future revelation. Here was a man who could formulate and 
write out the profound theology we find in his letter to the 
Romans, and yet would not claim that he had the last word 
on Christianity. I'm proud to identify with him! 

Even though Paul's insight and spiritual maturity seem far 
beyond our grasp, he had two attributes which I feel we can 
have. He had purpose and perseverance. To have a purpose 
is to have a goal and to have perseverance is to keep moving 
toward it. 

After his Damascus experience, Paul fixed his eyes on 
Jesus Christ and he kept them there. He was a one-purpose 
man and he knew what that purpose was. There was no 
question about his priorities once he committed himself to 
Christ. We call Paderewski a genius at the piano and Thomas 
Edison an inventive genius. But what we call "genius" is 
often nothing more than wholehearted purposefulness. I 
think Paderewski's musical talent would have gone un- 
noticed if he had not practiced the piano eight hours a day for 
fifty years. Thomas Edison, who invented a host of things 
that make life easier, had a purpose that kept him in his 
laboratory as many as twenty hours a day for weeks on end. 
A raindrop has no power, but put that raindrop with million 
of others, let it fall over the Niagara, and you have enough 
power to light a city. The electricity we feel when we walk on 


With Paul, We'll Keep On Trying— 12 

carpet on a cold day is powerless, but if it were all concen- 
trated together, we would sustain a real shock. We will 
never have a good family life, or succeed in establishing 
friendships, or know more about the faith, or experience a 
deeper relationship with Christ unless that be our purpose. 
Paul had a purpose. So must we. 

Perseverance is the second attribute we can adopt from 
this apostle. When he found his purpose, he stuck with it. ''I 
press toward the goal," he wrote. 'Til keep on trying." 

Paul's record is quite different from that of Demas, one of 
his companions in his early ministry. Demas is mentioned 
three times in the New Testament, but his story is tragic. 
The first is in Philemon in Paul's mention of ''Demas and 
Luke, my fellow workers". He wrote about him next in the 
Colossian correspondence: "Luke, the beloved physician, 
and Demas". In the third reference, Paul told Timothy that 
"Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me". 
His deterioration is so painfully obvious. When Paul first 
wrote about him, Demas' name is ahead of Luke's as one of 
the fellow workers. In the second reference, it seems that 
Paul mentioned his name as an afterthought, so he must have 
been slipping. Finally, Paul was saddened by Demas' deser- 
tion. Church membership rolls are filled with the spiritual 
descendants of Demas . Starting out well in the Christian life , 
some of us abandon our first love because of our increased 
appetites for other loves. 

The Boy Scouts, the YMCA, and a host of other youth 
organizations uphold the proposition that a good start is half 
the battle. We must, however, remember that it is only half 
the battle. The ultimate test is not so much in a good start as a 
good finish. Paul didn't start too well, but once he got 
underway his staying power was incredible. 

We have all started with a purpose, which is the reason we 
gather for worship. Our purpose is to make Jesus Christ the 
Lord of our lives. We've learned that from Paul. We also 
need to learn his perseverance — his ability to stay with it. 
Paul's commitment to the very ordinary attributes of pur- 
pose and perseverance enabled him to become an ex- 
traordinary man of God. Can we say with him that "we'll 
keep on trying"? 


The Christ Window 

Matthew 4:1-11 


He Was One of Us 

A very interesting and profound theological experience 
took place on a Sunday morning in one of our nursery 
classes at Edenton Street United Methodist Church. The 
teachers were talking with the two-year-old children about 
Jesus. They explained that he was a good man who lived 
long ago and taught us a lot about God. They also made the 
children aware that Jesus was once a little child who had to 
be taught by his mother and father. The class searched for 
pictures to see what Jesus looked like as a little boy and as a 
grown man and were fascinated with the ones that showed 
him with a beard. 

Just then, the church school superintendent, who has a 
beard, came by the room to pick up the attendance record. 
When he appeared in the doorway, one little girl pointed at 
him and declared to the others, 'There's Jesus. Right 

Perhaps that small child has a better theological under- 
standing of Jesus than a host of us adults. She has been 
taught at home and in church school that he was a good man. 
And that's how her two-year-old mind conceives of him — 
as a real person. She does not elevate him into the unreacha- 
ble and ethereal. I can imagine what she and those other 
nursery children thought that Sunday morning: ''My 
daddy's a good man. He must be like Jesus. My mother 
looks after me, and Jesus' mother did the same for him when 
he was little." 

Our ideas about Jesus fall into broad areas. To children, 
he is a real person. Young people are torn between Jesus as a 
man and a superman. (This is the reason they took so readily 
to the rock operas, "Jesus Christ Superstar" and "God- 
spell".) Most of us adults feel that he is far beyond our grasp; 
his mysterious birth, totally-committed life, monstrous 
crucifixion, and bewildering resurrection confuse and awe 


He Was One of Us— 13 

Some twenty years ago, I was a young adult trying to put 
my theology and my life together. One evening at church I 
heard a preacher say , ' 'Jesus came from the Father and went 
back to the Father, and the things that happened between his 
birth and death do not really matter". If that statement is 
true, his humanity didn't matter. If I believed that, Jesus 
would be someone to whom I could never relate and he 
would have no understanding of or meaning for my everyday 

Surrounding the Christ windows in Edenton Street United 
Methodist Church are the figures of twelve Biblical charac- 
ters. Each of these was a real person. Each had his own 
unique personality. Each had some personal difficulties to 
overcome and decisions to make. And each became what he 
was by his choice and with God's help. They were real 
people. Abraham was over-confident. David had a continual 
battle with the flesh. Simon Peter had his ups and downs. 
Even saintly John harbored a desire to be first. But they 
were all men of God — a mixture of horns and halos. All 
twelve of them were just like us: they ate, slept, worked, 
played, had hobbies and friends, made decisions, tried to 
make their incomes and expenditures balance, related well 
to some folks and turned others off. They were human 

So was Jesus. We need to remind ourselves over and over 
again that Jesus was a human being. Some very serious 
difficulties developed in the first century when certain 
theologians denied his humanity. That is why the early 
creeds of the church were written. For example, when the 
Apostles' Creed was adopted in the second century, the idea 
was prevalent that Jesus was not really a man, that he was 
not really born of Mary, but actually sprang into being as a 
full-grown adult. The wilderness temptations, some 
claimed, were not real, for no divine being could ever be 
tempted. And there were Christians then who believed that 
Jesus' suffering on the cross was a kind of divine playacting, 
for the Son of God could not be subjected to pain. So when 
the Apostles' Creed was written, the words ''born," "suf- 
fered," and "crucified" were used to affirm Jesus' human- 
ity — to affirm that he was born as other children are, that he 



Edenton Street United Methodist Church 
Raleigh y North Carolina 



P'i? Hi. 
?. ..4' I, . 

He Was One of Us— 13 

suffered under Pilate as many had, and that he was painfully 
crucified as were the two thieves. 

Here it is essential that we understand that affirming 
Jesus' humanity does not mean denying his divinity or his 
unique relation to God. But each of us needs to see his 
humanness in order to understand how vibrant and alive our 
own relationship to God can be. 

Jesus was not an oddity, or an exception, or a fine but 
unreachable ideal. Rather he was human — one of us. If our 
eyes are open as we read the gospels, we cannot miss this 
fact. In those four books we read of a real man who worked 
hard and fell asleep from exhaustion. He wept, faced frus- 
tration and despair, and was angry when he saw corruption. 
He became terrified in the garden and cried out in despera- 
tion as he died. He was one of us. 

There is much in the gospel records to confirm Jesus' 
humanity. But two things in particular — his temptations 
and his failures — point out how much he was like we are. 

Jesus was tempted as is every human being. Matthew 
reports that right after his baptism by John in the Jordan 
River, Jesus had to decide on the direcfion of his life, so he 
went to a secluded area and spent forty days by himself. No 
one was with him to tell about this experience, so he must 
have told the disciples himself and he told it in pictures that 
they could remember. 

If we had witnessed the temptations, we would have seen 
no tempter, no devil with a long tail and a pitchfork. We 
would have seen only a young man, alone with his thoughts. 
We know from his account that he was wrestling with all the 
shortcuts he could take to achieve his life's purposes — and 
being tempted to take them. This involved such a struggle 
that he was unable to eat during the forty days. 

First he considered setting up a kingdom which would 
satisfy the physical and material needs of people. 'Turn the 
stones into bread" was an enficing possibility. Doesn't this 
same idea invade our religious lives? How many fimes are 
we promised that the rewards will be great if we plant the 
seed of faith? I have been bombarded with mailings that tell 
me of all the good things that can be mine if I will send four 
dollars a month to God's Passbook Savings Plan, or make a 


He Was One of Us— 13 

contribution to a television club, or send twenty-five dollars 
to an evangelist in financial trouble. What a tremendous 
following Jesus would have had if he had succumbed to that 
temptation! How enticing it must have been! How tempting 
it is for us to follow promises of bread, of tangible rewards. 

Jesus was also tempted to present religion as a magic 
cure-all. ''Jump from the temple and show how God will 
take care of you" was a way of offering people a substitute 
for personal responsibility. How many of us are attracted to 
the Christian faith because we think of it as a ''rabbit's 
foot", a good luck charm? "If you are a real Christian", we 
are sometimes told, "you'll have no trouble, no suffering, no 
problems with the children, no difficulties in your mar- 
riage." Put a Bible in the house and a plastic Jesus on the 
dashboard and all will be safe. Pray with the football team to 
insure a victory. That kind of faith is still being offered, and 
as Jesus was tempted to offer it, we are tempted to accept it. 

Jesus also had to deal with selfish ambition in his tempta- 
tion experience. He was offered the whole world: "Til give 
you all the kingdoms if you will fall down and worship me." 
He struggled with the temptation to use his power for per- 
sonal gain and prestige — to put himself in God's place. We 
also have to fight selfish ambition and our desire to control 
pieces of real estate and kingdoms of men, to make pos- 
sessions the main objective of our lives. 

Jesus' decisions were made in the wilderness of tempta- 
tion — a wilderness with which all of us are painfully famil- 
iar. He could have changed the whole course of God's plan 
right there if he had adopted any of those ways, for he was 
human. But he emerged from that lonely retreat with a 
clear-eyed certainty about the way he must follow. We, too, 
can stop any plan God has for our lives, or we, too, can be 
certain and follow him. 

In addition to the temptations, I think his failures also 
show the humanity of Jesus. He failed with certain people. 
Some of his plans collapsed. He went to the cross feeling 
that he had fallen short of his goal. It is not heresy or 
blasphemy to say that Jesus was a failure. Such a possibility 


He Was One of Us— 13 

helps us believe in his humanness and helps us identify with 
him. For who of us has not failed? 

Jesus failed with his own family. They could not under- 
stand him, were upset by his actions, wanted to take him 
home. Can any of us say that we have been totally successful 
in rearing our children, or relating to mothers-in-law, or 
enjoying ideal family life without any misunderstanding and 

Jesus failed to convince a young man about the abundant 
life. He came to Jesus and laid out all his credentials: he had 
no ill-will toward anyone, had not broken the law that pre- 
scribed sexual intimacy only within marriage, nor was he 
guilty of lying or stealing. That was a good record, but Jesus 
saw that this young adult had another god whom he wor- 
shipped: his wealth. Can I take a chance with this man? Can 
I commend him for what he's done, take him in and hope his 
first love will change? Jesus may have wondered to himself. 
His honesty forced him to tell that man what he needed: to 
put his wealth in its proper perspective. When the young 
man walked away, Jesus expressed his feeling of failure to 
the disciples. Who of us has not felt the same sense of regret 
when those we love are indifferent to the faith and the Christ 
we follow? 

We can remember how dejected Jesus felt when only one 
of ten healed lepers expressed his appreciation. He knew 
how it feels to fail with people. 

That hour in the Garden of Gethsemane was a very human 
struggle for Jesus. We have a tendency here to leave his 
humanness outside the gate — to believe that he knew what 
was to happen and that he had no uncertainty or grief be- 
cause of his faith. But Jesus felt that he had failed, and he did 
not want to die without having convinced men that the 
Kingdom of God is the realm of love. He could not help 
feeling defeated and torn with grief when his disciples de- 
serted him and the world turned against him. 

If we could get away from the fact that Jesus Christ was 
human, everything would be easy. If he had never struggled 
or failed, had been all divine, then we would not have to face 


He Was One of Us— 13 

the demand to be like him. If he had some inside track to God 
that made him automatically committed and successful and 
above pain, then we can be ''off the hook." If he was not 
human, then we can't be expected to strive to be the com- 
mitted servant that he was. 

Only as we let Jesus be a person will we ever get to know 
him in a way that really matters. For you see, when we let 
him be who he was, then it will be possible for us to become 
who God intends us to be. Then — and only then — can we 
understand that God's extraordinary purposes are accom- 
plished by ordinary human beings. 


The Christ Window 

Luke 24:36-41 


The Resurrection Life: 
For Christ and for Us 

We have become a land of spectators. We watch instead 
of participating. Few of us play football, but a lot of us watch 
the games on television or in a stadium. Millions of us look at 
a few of us playing basketball. More people watch golf than 
play it. And judging from the amount of pornography prev- 
alent in our country, it seems that even sex has become a 
spectator sport. 

Being a participant is quite different from being a spec- 
tator. There is a vast difference between making a tackle and 
watching it being made. It is more difficult to shoot a basket 
than to shout for a basket. The putts that look so easy on 
television are far more difficult on the golf course. Being a 
participant is com.pletely different from being a spectator. It 
is one thing to attend a wedding, but another to be the bride 
or the groom. The spectator walks away from the wedding 
basically unchanged. The participant, for better or for 
worse, will never be the same again. At a sports event, the 
spectator generally invests nothing more than the price of 
admission and the inconvenience of getting there. The par- 
ticipant puts his life, his health, his reputation on the line. 

It is like that old joke about the hen and the pig who were 
talking about the gratitude they felt for the man on whose 
farm they lived. He fed them, provided them a place to stay, 
and looked after their general safety. As an expression of 
their gratitude, they decided to treat the farmer to a break- 
fast of ham and eggs . The hen would provide the eggs and the 
pig would provide the ham. Preparations were well under 
way until the pig finally realized that if their plans were 
carried out, it would require little effort by the hen but total 
participation on his part. 

Each of us has a choice, when it comes to the Christian 
faith, to be either a spectator or a participant. And the 
difference between the two is just as significant here as it is 


The Resurrection Life: For Christ And For Us — 14 

on the football field, the basketball court, the golf course, or 
in a marriage or a barnyard. The marvel of the Christian 
faith, difficult as it is for us to grasp, is that God himself was 
not just a spectator in our world, but a participant. 

A man from China was trying to explain to a group of 
people why he became a Christian instead of embracing 
either Confucianism or Buddhism, the predominant reli- 
gions of his country. He imagined himself in a very deep 
well, sinking into the water and mud. He could not get out. 
Someone looking down at him from the top of the well said, 
''My son, I am Confucius, the father of your country. If you 
had obeyed my teaching, you would never have landed in 
this well. If you ever do get out, be careful to follow it." He 
waved his hand and left. Then Buddha came along, looked 
down, and advised the man to fold his arms and think, and 
that would give him peace. He called to Buddha for help, 
declaring he would follow his instructions whenever he was 
rescued. Buddha, too, left him in despair. The third man 
wasted no time offering words of comfort from the top of the 
well; he went down, pulled the man out of the mud and 
water, brought him up, removed his dirty clothes, washed 
him, and dressed him in clean garments. Then the helper 
invited the man to follow him, promising that he would never 
forsake him. The Chinese Christian responded to the Christ 
who rescued him. 

There is a difference between being a spectator and a 
participant. God chose to be a participant in our world, and 
he did so by becoming one of us, by coming in Jesus of 
Nazareth. We see in him a human being who subjected 
himself to all the limitations you and I have to accept. He 
overcame the struggles and failures that can tear a human 
life apart. He chose and responded just as you and I do. We 
can identify with Jesus and strive to become the committed 
servant he became. He was able to set his priorities straight, 
and so can we. He suffered rejection, misunderstanding, and 
failure, but he never let them color his life to the point of 
giving up. We, too, can rise above whatever life hands us. 
He was courageous enough to stick by his principles and 
maintain his integrity, and that same courage is available to 
us. We can discover what Jesus discovered: that service is 


The Resurrection Life: For Christ And For Us — 14 

the secret of a happy Hfe. This is possible because God did 
not just watch his world go by; he took part in it. 

Easter is the day we celebrate the victory and the resur- 
rection of Jesus, whom we call the incarnate Son of God. 
Shall we be spectators or participants in that event? We may 
think that we have no choice. What can we do except stand 
by and observe the empty tomb? We know of no one else 
who has been resurrected from the dead as he was, so what 
can Easter mean to us other than an anniversary celebra- 
tion? But we are not limited to the spectator role, for we can 
be participants in resurrection — and Jesus shows us the 
way to victory over whatever entombs us. 

Jesus was, first of all, a victor over himself, over his 
selfishness and self-centeredness. At the beginning of his 
ministry, he could have decided to center the whole mission 
of the kingdom of God on himself. He could have been 
popular if he had ''stroked" people, continually patted them 
on the back, said only comforting things and silently as- 
sented to their waywardness. He could have stayed in 
Galilee, enjoying the peace and quiet and security of the 
carpenter shop. He could have plied his own trade, minded 
his own business, and saved his own skin. But he didn't. He 
rose above himself. Some of us are imprisoned within our- 
selves, entombed by self-concern, shrouded by the ''me" 
philosophy. And as long as we remain Easter spectators, we 
will never discover what it means to rise above ourselves. 

Jesus did not live his life for himself. He lived to serve God 
and others. In fact, he was quite explicit when he said that at 
the last judgment we will be judged solely on the basis of how 
we have treated others. Not a word will be asked about how 
many creeds we can recite or what doctrines we subscribe 
to, but only if we have lost ourselves in service. 

Jesus found a way out of self-centeredness. He was resur- 
rected from himself — and so can we be if we are partici- 
pants in servanthood. 

Jesus was also a victor over ill will, adversity, rejection. 
To be resurrected from these is terribly difficult. The man 
Jesus was able to rise above those who hated him. That's 
one reason God sent him to earth — to show how much 
forgiveness is possible. 


The Resurrection Life: For Christ And For Us — 14 

It is so normal to retaliate, to strike back, to seek revenge 
that Jesus dealt with it in the Sermon on the Mount: "Don't 
be angry with your brother. Don't return evil for evil. Love 
your enemies. Pray for those who mistreat you." When he 
and Simon Peter discussed forgiveness, Jesus said it must be 
unconditional, limitless. I marvel at his prayer when he was 
being nailed to the cross: ''Father, forgive them; they don't 
know what they are doing." There is no trace of vengeance 
or animosity in him. Long before he died, Jesus was resur- 
rected from revenge and hatred. Thus he sets before us the 
highest ethical standard ever known. His disciples, then and 
now, have never fully accepted nor lived by this standard. 
But we have caught enough of its spirit to know that there is 
something tragically wrong in hating and seeking revenge. 

One day I listened to a young woman verbalize her hatred 
for some of the people of her church, for certain persons 
with whom she worked, and even the hatred she had felt for 
me. I have never been able to get that scene out of my mind 
and heart, for that young woman is destroying her life, 
entombing it, encasing it, shrouding it in hatred. She could 
be resurrected from all that with the help of the one who 
said, "Love . . ." 

Jesus rose above the rejection and ill will and adversity 
that was directed toward him. We can, too, if we are partici- 
pants in the Easter event and not merely spectators. 

Jesus was also victor over the fear of death. Even though 
we celebrate immortality at Easter, death remains inevita- 
ble. "There is a time to be born and a time to die," the writer 
of the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes declares. Easter 
doesn't change the fact that each of us dies. But Easter 
declares that the fear of death, the sense of despair that 
accompanies it, and the feeling that it brings life to a full stop 
are erased by Jesus' resurrection. 

In his life and teachings, Jesus always approached the 
problem of death with a sympathetic spirit and a penetrating 
mind. He taught us to think of it as a door that opens into a 
fuller awareness of life. When we are overcome by our fears 
— and who isn't at one time or another — we can recall his 
words of assurance to his troubled disciples: "Don't let your 
hearts be fearful. There are many rooms in my Father's 


The Resurrection Life: For Christ And For Us — 14 

house, and I am going to prepare a place for you." 

Jesus did not want to die, as we can see in the Gethsemane 
experience. There he was filled with grief and anguish, and 
he asked the Father if it would be possible for men to change 
their minds. He was afraid, not of death, but of what hatred 
can do to people. A participant in the Christian faith does not 
fear death because he trusts in God. 

A bride decides on her wedding dress long before her 
wedding day. It is hard to imagine any bride, on the night 
before she's to be married, saying, ''I wonder what I should 
wear tomorrow." For months she has been looking forward 
to the day she will stand beside the young man who is to be 
her husband. She prepares for that day because she is to be a 
participant. A spectator can decide the night before what to 
wear to the wedding, but not the bride. 

St. Paul said the time will come when we will meet Christ 
face to face. If we really believe that, we will get ready by 
rising now above our selfishness and our refusal to forgive 
those who hurt us. And if we are ready, we will not fear the 
meeting, or the death that precedes it. 

What is it that encases us today? Is it self-centeredness? 

What is it that entombs us? Is it hatred? 

What is it that shrouds life for us? Is it the fear of nothing- 
ness, extinction, death? 

Jesus was resurrected from whatever entombs us. As one 
of us, he rose above selfishness and revenge. So can we. If 
we are participants in his resurrection, then we can begin to 
live victoriously, joyously. 

At Easter we need to be participants and rise out of 
ourselves, our hatred, our fears. We can, with the help of the 
risen Christ. The resurrection life — the extraordinary life of 
service and love and trust — can begin right here for us, at 
this very moment. 


The Rose Window 

Luke 1:1-4 
John 21:25 


Take a Closer Look 

High school juniors in the State of North Carolina took 
their competency tests in November, 1978. Two months 
later the governor gave a statewide television audience the 
results. Ninety percent of the students passed the reading 
section, which meant that at least 73,000 eleventh graders 
were able to read with some degree of comprehension. The 
conclusions were not as bad as some people had predicted, 
but Governor Hunt said he did not feel they were good 
enough. He was concerned with that ten percent who did not 
pass the reading portion of the test. He later asked the 
General Assembly to underwrite remedial programs for 
those students who had failed. 

Have you ever wondered what it would be like not to be 
able to read? I think most of us wonder what it would be like 
not to be able to see, especially when we meet a blind 
person. We may even wonder how it would feel to be deaf. 
William Barclay, an English theologian, declared that his 
deafness was a real asset because he was able to eliminate a 
lot of noise by unplugging his hearing aid. I'm sure, how- 
ever, that at other times he felt lonely and cut off. 

I am not sure about the literacy of Edenton Street United 
Methodist Church's congregation, but we have a member 
who is blind and a number of members who have lost their 
sense of hearing. One totally deaf person who cannot even 
hear with an aid is always at the worship service on Sunday. 
She cannot hear the music or the sermon. She sits in a world 
of silence. ''I come because I like to be with people," she 
says, ''and because of the surroundings of the sanctuary. 
There is a lot I can see that speaks to me." 

We are surrounded in this building each Sunday by a host 
of things that speak to us, not audibly but through our sight. 
As we walk in the door, someone shakes our hand. As we sit 
down, we see things that represent something to us: the flag 


Take a Closer Look — 15 

of the United States is a symbol of this country, and the 
cross on the altar is a symbol of our resurrection faith. When 
we create a symbol, we take an idea and a visible form of that 
idea, and we put the two together. The visible form is not an 
exact replica of the idea but is a way of calling the idea to 
mind. Clasping each other's hands is not friendship, but it 
conveys a feeling of friendship. The flag is not the United 
States, but the stars and stripes help us think of this country. 
The cross is not the resurrection faith, but it reminds us of 
our faith. 

Most of the lay people in the early church could not read. 
When they gathered for worship, they could not read the 
scriptures, or follow words in a hymn book, or be guided by 
an order of worship printed in a bulletin. They listened 
intently and remembered what they heard. Since they could 
not read, they began to develop some symbols, some visible 
signs that would help them recall what they had heard and 
learned when they entered the church building. This is how 
church symbolism was started. God was pictured as a hand 
reaching down and the Holy Spirit as a dove descending 
from above. The lamb became a symbol for Jesus. For the 
church there was a ship and for the Trinity a triangle. When 
those early Christians came to church, even though they 
could not read, they found in symbols some elements of the 

Symbols are still used today in church windows and 
church furnishings to remind us of some of the cardinal 
elements of our faith. This is a form of teaching, a way of 
presenting something visual to help recall a biblical or 
theological truth. The symbols that surround a worshiper in 
the Edenton Street United Methodist Church sanctuary are 
a valuable supplement to the preaching and religious educa- 

The very first symbols that attract our attention, the ones 
we mention most often, are the stained glass windows. If we 
could not read but had heard stories about the biblical fig- 
ures seen in the windows, looking at their images would help 
us recall the Bible records. The Enoch window would bring 
to our minds a man who walked very close to his maker 
throughout his lifetime. Isaiah used some unusual methods 


Take a Closer Look — 15 

to get God's message across to the people of his day. Seeing 
his image might remind us of our need to be alert to the 
message as it comes to us today. Saint Paul, whom I have 
always considered a spiritual giant, never stopped striving to 
deepen his faith. The Old and New Testament figures who 
occupy the larger space in the twelve windows not only have 
a story of their own, but a message so up-to-date that it 
commands our attention. 

The lower sections of the fourteen windows tell the story 
of Jesus, beginning with his birth and ending with the ascen- 
sion. We often have a treasure hunt in confirmation class. 
Class members are given a list of words or names and are 
instructed to find them in the Bible. One evening I watched 
them search for the name Jesus. Some began with the first 
page of the Bible. Others kept flipping from section to sec- 
tion, even using the index. Some of them turned immedi- 
ately to one of the four books that tell his life story. After 
their months of study, all the members of the class could tell 
us to turn to the gospels when we wish to know about the life 
and ministry of Jesus. Since those young people are able to 
read, they could pick out the four books from a list of 
twenty-seven books in the New Testament. 

In the early church where the members could not read, it 
would have been meaningless to give them an index listing of 
books. One early church leader, Irenaeus, decided that pic- 
tures would help the people remember Matthew, Mark, 
Luke, and John, the four gospel writers. Irenaeus thought of 
the different aspects of Jesus: his humanity, his leadership, 
his sacrifice, his divinity. Then he thought of the symbolism 
used by Ezekiel in his Old Testament prophecy and picked 
up by John in Revelation. Both writers had visions of the 
grandeurs of heaven. When they attempted to describe their 
vision of the throne upon which God sat, they wrote that it 
was surrounded by four living creatures: a man, a lion, an 
ox, an eagle. Irenaeus held that those four living creatures 
represented the four aspects of the work of Jesus. The man 
symbolized his humanness. The lion was representative of 
his leadership, the strength and fortitude of his ministry. 
Cattle were used as animals of sacrifice, so the ox was a sign 
of the sacrificial nature of his life and death. Since the eagle 


Take a Closer Look — 15 

flies the highest of all birds, it was used to indicate the height 
of his spiritual nature, his divinity. So Irenaeus and some of 
the other church leaders, in order to give symbols to non- 
reading readers, pictures each of the four gospel writers as 
one of the four living creatures. 

There is a window in the Edenton Street United Methodist 
Church sanctuary that shows those four creatures. It is the 
first window we notice when we enter, for it occupies a 
prominent space above the altar. We call it a rose window. 
The deep shades of blue and red, as well as its circular shape, 
make it an object of beauty — but take a closer look: it is 
more than beautiful. If we examine the window closely, we 
see in the center an open book imprinted with two Greek 
letters. Surrounding it are four small pictures representing 
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. If you cannot see them 
clearly in the window, perhaps you can find the identical 
carvings on each side of the reredos, the wooden panel 
behind the altar. 

Although all four gospels are biographies, they are not 
exactly alike. Each stresses a different aspect of the ministry 
of Christ. The church leaders kept this in mind when select- 
ing the creatures to represent the gospel. 

Matthew' s gospel begins by tracing the genealogy of Jesus 
through forty-two generations. He wrote primarily to Jewish 
Christians, attempting to show that the man of Nazareth was 
the Messiah whom they had anticipated. Over and over he 
referred to the prophecies that told of his coming. Because 
Matthew stresses the humanity of Christ, the symbol of his 
book is a man. The winged man called the early Christians' 
attention to Matthew's gospel and its emphasis on the hu- 
manity of Jesus. 

When we read through the sixteen chapters of the Gospel 
According to Mark, we are struck by quickly-changing 
scenes, and by the way the story jumps rapidly from one 
episode to another. It is amazing the number of times Mark 
writes, "And Jesus immediately ..." — did this, did that, 
went here, went there. Everywhere he went and everything 
he did indicate that he was a remarkable leader, as well as a 
man of action. A lion holds a place of honor in the animal 
kingdom because of its speed and strength. So it became the 


Take a Closer Look — 15 

symbol for Mark, and the winged-lion was a reminder of that 
gospel of action. 

In the Old Testament times animal sacrifices were an 
outward expression thought to be necessary to obtain God's 
forgiveness. St. Luke was a doctor by profession who loved 
and served people, and Jesus' sacrificial and loving service 
impressed him deeply. The ox, that humble beast of burden, 
became the token of Luke and the story he wrote. 

John is different from the other three writers. He gave no 
account of the birth, the baptism, or the temptations of 
Jesus. There are no parables and no healing words for people 
thought to be demon-possessed. There is nothing about the 
elements of the Last Supper or about Gethsemane. In his 
philosophical manner, John wrote about Jesus as the Bread 
of Life, the Light of the World, the Good Shepherd, the 
Resurrection. Because of his stress on the divinity of the 
master, John is thought of as the eagle. The eagle flies higher 
than all other birds, and the fourth Gospel reaches the high- 
est thoughts about Christ. 

The rose window has these four symbols of the gospel 
writers, each stressing one of the four aspects of Jesus' life 
and ministry. The humanity, the leadership, the sacrifice, 
and the divinity are symbolized by the man, the lion, the ox, 
and the eagle. 

The open book in the center of these symbols is the Bible. 
The two Greek letters on it are alpha and omega. These are 
the first and last letters of that alphabet. They stand for Jesus 
Christ, ''the first and the last", "the beginning and the end", 
''the same yesterday, today and forever." (Revelation 
22:13, Hebrews 13:8) 

The window that rises above the altar is more than a thing 
of beauty. If we take a closer look, we find in it a visual 
reminder of Jesus Christ and of those who wrote his story for 
us, and we will discover that it is more than ordinary stained 
glass; it is an extraordinary symbol of how God showed 
himself to us. 


The Nativity Panel 

Luke 2:1-7 


That Wasn't a Convincing 
Way to Begin 

The church needs to advertise if it is to attract people. The 
reason the PTL Club on television meets with such great 
success and receives millions of dollars each week is that it 
advertises. It uses TV to promote its programs and Jim 
Bakker to make passionate pleas for funds. Oral Roberts has 
achieved personal popularity and is now able to attract 
multitudes to a meeting or a broadcast because of his name. 
In fact, Mr. Roberts never lets us forget his name; he men- 
tions it often in his preaching. Because of giant crusades, 
Billy Graham has become the final authority for a lot of 
people. He proclaimed (November 1978) that ''Jim Jones, 
leader of the People's Temple cult who led over nine hun- 
dred of his followers to mass suicide, was possessed by the 
devil." According to Mr. Graham's theology, our life is 
either directed by an angel or the devil, and basically, we are 
not responsible. All of us would agree that his is a safe 
theology, even if we feel it is unsound. Such thinking, em- 
braced by many, is advertised and published. 

Scattered across this country are a host of local churches. 
Some are little, some are large. Some have only a few 
members while others have memberships in the thousands. 
The budgets vary from a few dollars to a million dollars. We 
have heard of St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church in New 
York City. It is a landmark. Listed on a sightseer's guide to 
the capital is the National Cathedral. The November 
suicides made the People' s Temple of San Francisco known, 
and the Carter family made famous the Plains Baptist 
Church in Georgia. Most of the churches, however, are 
simply statistical figures, except to their own ministers and 

Centuries ago some statistical data was being gathered by 
a Roman emperor who ordered a census. No one went from 


That Wasn't a Convincing Way to Begin — 16 

door to door making a count of the people who lived in each 
household. There was no clock in the capital that recorded 
the number of births and deaths that occurred each minute. 
In fact, the burden of taking the census did not rest primarily 
on the shoulders of the government that ordered it, but on 
the citizens. 

Just as we have to go to the precinct in which we are 
registered to vote, the people of that first century had to go 
to a certain place in order to give their census information. 
When we vote, we go to the precinct nearest our home, and 
when we move from one area to another, or from one city to 
another, we transfer our voter registration. That saves us 
from going back to the first place we registered to vote when 
we were eighteen or twenty-one. The people of this particu- 
lar first century census, however, were ordered to return to 
the place where their ancestry began. 

The names that made the news then were those who were 
''big" in government and religion. Caesar Augustus, 
Quirinius, Herod, Annas were household words. The news 
centered around the big cities like Jerusalem, Rome, 

It was during that particular time that God, the creator of 
the universe, decided to show himself in a way that could be 
understood. (At least God hoped we would be able to under- 
stand.) This manifestation had been anticipated for cen- 
turies, promised time and time again to the Israelites, who 
felt chosen by God to receive it. They had read it in their 
prophetic literature, had heard about it in their synagogues, 
had talked about it among themselves, and had even 
dreamed of such a revelation. They waited longingly for it. 
They waited because they were tired of having to give part of 
their income to support a government that oppressed them, 
and of having to kowtow to every Roman soldier who 
roamed the streets of their towns making unreasonable de- 
mands. They plodded along because they knew that some- 
day soon a messiah was coming who would wipe out Rome, 
destroy her oppressive government, and set them free. 

At last, during that Roman census, the Messiah was born. 
The Messiah came, but not as they had expected. He didn't 
come as Mr. Clean to wipe out all the Roman dirt. He didn't 


That Wasn't a Convincing Way to Begin — 16 

come on a white horse, Hke a white tornado, making every- 
thing bright and shiny with a wave of his hand. He didn't 
come as Superman, changing clothes and personaHty in a 
telephone booth and unsticking every sticky situation. He 
didn't come as the great evangelist, drawing bigger and 
bigger crowds, collecting more and more money, being seen 
and heard over radio and television, and promising peace 
and prosperity for a particular kind of faith. The Deliverer 
didn't come at all as the waiting Israelites expected. He 
didn't come the way they predicted, and didn't begin to save 
the world from its bondage the way they would have done it. 

The crux of this whole matter is that we still prescribe 
certain ways for him to come to us. We still have precon- 
ceived ways in which we think God should make himself 

There is a window in the sanctuary of Edenton Street 
United Methodist Church that has a very ordinary scene in 
the bottom panel. It shows a father, a mother, and a baby. 
The baby has obviously been born very recently. Although 
the people are dressed differently from the way we dress, the 
scene is a familiar one. 

Many babies have been born within the past week at Rex 
Hospital and Wake Medical Center. I walked by the nur- 
series of both hospitals and saw fathers, mothers, and 
babies. The only difference was that the babies were on the 
other side of a glass wall, and there were no sheep around. I 
didn't think much about it, for we expect to see parents 
looking at their newborns in a hospital nursery. 

In the first century husbands and wives were going to their 
ancestral towns all over the Roman empire. Surely more 
than one of those was expecting a baby. The birth of a 
normal six-pound boy was no great thing because there were 
lots of boy babies born that same night. But that's the way it 
all began, in an ordinary way. That's the way it still begins. 

A sermon such as this is not meant to be flippant, but if we 
could have a conversation with God, there might be some 
questions we would like to ask about this beginning. 

Why did you do it this way, God? Why did you reveal 
yourself in a helpless baby? We see very little strength or 
power in a tiny baby. The potential is there, of course, but a 


That Wasn't a Convincing Way to Begin — 16 

more spectacular way would have attracted immediate at- 
tention. If a king had suddenly appeared on the throne in 
Rome, or a prince arisen with prestige, wealth, authority, 
and power, people would have taken notice. Or better yet, 
God, if the skies had opened one day and you had walked 
down a flight of stairs, that would have been the Cecil B. 
DeMille way and folks would have come to ramrod atten- 
tion. That is what some folks are still promising. One day 
things are going to break loose, they say, and the sky is going 
to open up. Is it possible that you might come in an ordinary 
way again, as in a church service, or through our prayer 
lives, or in the small voice in our hearts? 

Another question we might ask is, why did you pick 
Bethlehem, God? That little town was so obscure that most 
people had never heard of it. It was just a tiny provincial 
place where they rolled up the sidewalks at eight o'clock 
every night. It was like Lemon Springs or Chinquapin or Tin 
City. The only folks who know where they are are the people 
who live or were born there. Why couldn't it have been in 
Jerusalem? Or wouldn't it have been better if you had 
selected Rome or Athens? Or, if you had just waited, 
couldn't it have been in New York or Chicago or Houston? 

Why did you choose that ancient day, God? Oh, there 
were good roads then; in fact, the Romans are still remem- 
bered for their excellent highway construction. There was a 
measure of peace, even though it had to be maintained by 
occupation troops. It is true that people were expecting you 
to come. But look at all the advantages you could have in this 
century, if you had waited. The television cameras could 
flash the picture and message of a messiah around the world 
in a matter of seconds. The viewing audience would put a 
supergame on public broadcast. We can imagine how the 
Sermon on the Mount would sound in stereo if you had only 
waited, God. With our incomparable communication sys- 
tem, even the remotest places of the world could hear the 
good news. We are educated, highly-trained, computerized, 
skilled and sophisticated people. Think of what we could do 
with Jesus today, if you had only waited, God, or would now 
send him on a cloud. 

Why on earth did you choose a stable? There must have 


That Wasnt a Convincing Way to Begin — 16 

been flies and smelly animals. Since this baby was your son, 
why not a palatial home for him like the White House or the 
Biltmore House in Asheville? That would have impressed 
us. Or better yet, why not Johns Hopkins Hospital or the 
Duke Medical Center? Mary could have been given the best 
care, watched over by skilled doctors and nurses, and all our 
modern techniques would have been available if anything 
went wrong with the birth. Everyone would have known 
that this baby was unusual. As it is, we have enhanced that 
stable, pretending it was clean, had radiant heat in the floor 
and hot and cold running water, and animals that did not 

This fifth question we preface with an explanation. You 
know, God, that we are not prejudiced and have open minds 
on the race issue, but why an ethnic minority? Why a Jew? 
We've made the Jewish race the brunt of our cute jokes, 
although we have shifted more recently to the Polish. At 
least Mary and Joseph might have been wealthy and cul- 
tured, or better still, couldn't Joseph have been a high priest 
like John the Baptist's father? We are not anti-semitic, but 
you must admit that Jesus' chances would have been con- 
siderably better if he had been the son of a respectable, 
upper class family of influence and means. At least he could 
have been Caucasian. 

Any questions for us, God? We know that at his nativity 
there were a lot of people who missed you, God: Caesar, 
Herod, the innkeeper, most of the citizens. They missed 
your coming because it didn't happen as they expected. It 
was too ordinary. 

Oh, but some people didn't miss him. Somehow, 
shepherds on the hillside knew he had come and they tried to 
describe the ordinary in an extraordinary way to convince 
those they told. There were wise men, seekers, who found in 
the ordinary the one they sought. They said it was like 
following a star, even though they walked on level ground. 
Mary and Joseph expected nothing new in their baby ' s birth, 
but by the time the story was written down, everything 
about Jesus had become wondrously extraordinary. 

It is rather remarkable that above the nativity panel in this 
window stands the Old Testament character, Enoch. The 


That Wasn't a Convincing Way to Begin — 16 

only thing the Bible says about him is that he walked with 
God. The writer doesn't say exactly what this meant, but we 
can surmise that he had a keen sense of God's presence as he 
went about his work, participated in his community, lived in 
his home, worshiped in his church, dealt with his fellowman. 
A man walking with God, sensing his presence — nothing 
stupendous, colossal, or extraordinary about that, is there? 

Underneath Enoch, we see in stained glass a baby's birth, 
an ordinary, everyday happening. And yet that is the way 
God came and continues to come to us, in ordinary ways, in 
our work, in our homes, in our community, in our worship, 
in our relationships. Will we recognize him in his ex- 
traordinary Son, Jesus Christ? 


The Purification and Presentation 

Luke 2:22-40 


What Do an Ancient Home 
and a Modern Church 
Have in Common? 

Abuse is a topic which easily evokes our feelings. To 
abuse something is to use it wrongly, improperly. The other 
morning I laid some guilt on one of my sons who had abused 
two of my neckties. I found them on the floor of his closet, 
hidden under some of his own abused clothing. He had 
misused property, used it wrongly and improperly, and I 
reacted strongly. All of us react even more fiercely when we 
hear of human abuse . To abuse a human being is to do wrong 
to that person, to injure or berate or physically mistreat him. 
A husband can be tried in a court session for wife abuse. A 
wife can be accused of emotionally berating her husband. 
Parents can be checked on if they are suspected of child 

This past week in Chicago a city worker went berserk 
from sheer exhaustion. For days he had been cleaning away 
snow with no letup from a grinding routine. Crashing his 
snowplow into over thirty automobiles, he abused the per- 
sonal property of the owners. The newspapers have recently 
reported a suit that is being brought against the actor, Lee 
Marvin. For over two years, I feel, he abused his common- 
law wife, although she subjected herself to him. Now she is 
retaliating. One aspect the media has not mentioned is that 
they both have abused the sacred covenant of marriage. 

In Ann Landers' column one writer expressed her horror 
when she read about a woman who delivered her baby in a 
gas station rest room, threw the seven-pound girl into a trash 
can, and drove away with her boyfriend. Last November I 
recall seeing the picture of a twenty-five-year-old New Jer- 
sey mother who allowed two dogs to mangle her newborn 
infant. In one city on the east coast a mother threw her 


What Do an Ancient Home and a 
Modern Church Have in Common? — 17 

three-month-old baby off an overpass onto an interstate 
highway. A nine-year-old girl was recently discovered in her 
parents' closet, having been confined there since birth. In 
Philadelphia a father was arrested after authorities discov- 
ered him burning his child with lighted cigarettes. The news 
media constantly reminds us of human abuse. 

The lower panel of one window in Edenton Street United 
Methodist Church depicts a scene from Jesus' life. In keep- 
ing with the Jewish religious practice of their day, Mary and 
Joseph had taken their eight-day-old baby to the temple to be 
circumcised by the rabbi. Forty days after his birth, ac- 
cording to that same practice, they went back to the temple 
to make a sacrifice of purification. This is what we see in that 

After the birth of a baby, a woman was thought to be 
unclean. This lasted for forty days if the baby were a boy, 
eighty days if a girl. This meant that she could go about her 
daily business, but she could not go to the temple or partici- 
pate in any religious ceremony. At the end of that time, she 
had to bring a sacrifice: a lamb and a pigeon if she were 
wealthy or doves in place of the lamb if she were poor. 

An elderly man named Simeon was in the temple the day 
the young couple came to make the purification sacrifice. 
Like most people of the Hebrew race, he was expecting a 
messiah, one who would save his people from the tyranny of 
Rome. Somehow God had revealed to Simeon that this 
redeemer would come in an ordinary way — a way that 
becomes extraordinary for us because of his life, death, and 
resurrection — and he went to the temple that day convinced 
that the fulfillment of God's promise was imminent. When 
he saw Mary and Joseph come in with their baby, he knew 
that God was incarnate in that child. 'T have now seen the 
Savior God has given to the world," he declared. Simeon 
told Mary that people would not be able to understand how 
God could come in such an ordinary way, but he added, 
''Your child is a light and he will shine." (Luke 2:32) The 
sanctuary window shows him holding the baby Jesus. 

It is a beautiful scene. It reminds us of the baptism of a 
baby. As with infant baptism, what is really important is 
what happened after this scene. What kind of life did Jesus 


What Do an Ancient Home and a 
Modern Church Have in Common? — 17 

have in Nazareth? What happened every day in his home? 
Luke reports that ''the child grew and became strong." 
Because of his ordinary birth, I feel that Jesus grew up in the 
usual first-century Jewish way. His mental, physical, and 
spiritual growth depended on his parents, Mary and Joseph. 
From what we read, they set a good example. They helped 
their child as any good parent does, and he responded to the 
training and discipline he received. 

It is impossible to look at every facet of the relationship 
between parent and child, what is given and what is re- 
ceived. Let's look at three ordinary things that Mary and 
Joseph offered their child, gifts he accepted: food, protec- 
tion, and training. 

One of the first requirements of a baby is food. Without 
nourishment, an adult can live for about two weeks. Death 
would come in a matter of hours to an infant so deprived. 
Any parent knows the rigid schedule of feedings and what 
rejoicing takes place when the baby takes enough milk to 
sleep through most of the night. Even now I can remember 
encouraging our babies to drink enough to hold them until 
daybreak, and offering them hearty congratulations when 
they slept for six hours straight. We can almost hear the 
Nazarene parents doing the same with their baby. As the 
child's body matures, his need reaches the point when par- 
ents have to guide his eating habits. We encourage our 
teenagers to eat vegetables, and they respond by eating six 
string beans and a little dab of carrots. 

Let's shift roles for a minute. Let's put the church in the 
parental role and her members in the child's role. The 
church offers us food, encourages us to take it. Sometimes 
called ''the bread of life," this food is the Bible, the Word of 
God. One of the prophets in the Old Testament actually ate 
the scriptures. God had told Ezekiel that he wanted him to 
be filled with the Word, to digest it and let it become a part of 
him. Ezekiel actually took a piece of the scroll on which the 
scripture was written, put it in his mouth and chewed and 
swallowed it. 

The church offers us such nourishment in the act of public 
worship, in the sermon, in classes, in its library facilides, 
and in various other ways. When we accept and partake, we 


What Do an Ancient Home and a 
Modern Church Have in Common? — 17 

find that we do ''increase in wisdom." One minister reports 
that a member came in to discuss a problem. As he Hstened, 
the minister remembered that he had preached on that very 
subject and one of the church school classes had studied it 
for six weeks. ''Where were you?" he inquired. Well, be- 
cause he had the "sniffles" the week that sermon was 
preached, the member had stayed at home. "And Sunday 
School is not my thing," he added. He had missed being fed, 
and now he was hungry. 

There is no reason for any of us to be spiritually famished. 
The food is here. It is ours for the taking. All we need is to 
respond, to accept the gift. 

In addition to food, a baby needs protection. Mary wrap- 
ped her baby in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger to 
keep him warm. Joseph fled to Egypt with his family to 
protect them from a hostile king. I was talking with a new 
grandfather last week, who delighted in telling me how ac- 
tive his twenty-day-old grandson is. The parents had to buy 
a bumper pad to put around the edge of the mattress to 
protect the baby. Every parent knows that protection is a 
basic requirement. Mary and Joseph set a good example by 
protecting their son. 

The church, like a parent, provides a kind of protection for 
us. It is like a greenhouse or an incubator giving warmth and 
light. I keep hearing people say over and over again, "I can 
be a good Christian without the church!" That's like a plant 
saying, "I don't need warmth, moisture, and sunshine." 
That's like playing basketball, baseball, or football by your- 
self. It may be all right for awhile, but we need to be on a 
team to play a real game. 

Serving a church in a city is quite different from serving a 
church in a small town or a rural area. One noticeable 
difference is church shoppers. In a small town there is usu- 
ally one Methodist church. If we move to that town and are 
Methodists, we will, in all likelihood, go to that church. 
When we call on new Methodist families in a city, we are told 
that they are shopping for a church and will put us on their 
list. And if some member gets provoked at a policy or a 
preacher, there is the option of hopping to another 
Methodist church in the city. Some of us shop around be- 


What Do an Ancient Home and a 
Modern Church Have in Common? — 17 

cause we sincerely want our needs met; others of us seem to 
be searching for the perfect church. 

No church is perfect, but it doesn't have to be perfect to 
give us the protection we need. A few broken windows and 
an unpleasant odor don't keep a greenhouse from providing 
what is needed for growing plants. It does not have to be 
perfect to do its job. Neither does a church. 

We have some friends who have actually been living in the 
waiting room of the intensive care unit of a Greensboro 
hospital. Their son has been struggling several days for his 
life since an automobile accident. They have expressed 
gratitude for the support and protection they feel from their 
church in Charlotte, and from every other church that that 
father has served, and from a host of us who have been 
brought together in friendship through the church. The 
church does offer protection, but if we would enjoy it, we 
must accept it. 

In addition to the food and the protection Jesus received in 
his home, he also had to be trained by Mary and Joseph. He 
had to be potty trained, had to learn to obey his elders, had to 
be guided in the language, had to be instructed in the scrip- 
tures. Everyone has to undergo training. Athletes, secre- 
taries, cooks, musicians don't become experts by accident. 
Spiritual training is also necessary. It takes years of training 
to be physically and mentally proficient. Spiritual training is 
no different. We do not learn to pray or worship or love 
without the discipline of training. 

A young boy received a clarinet for Christmas. He was 
quite excited and decided to learn to play like Artie Shaw 
and Benny Goodman. His mother signed him up for music 
lessons. The teacher began with the c-major scale, and 
rapped out three-quarter time on his knuckles with a ruler. 
After an hour the boy said, ''What's this got to do with jazz 
music, or Artie Shaw? I'm bored, I quit." He never learned 
to play the clarinet. 

This seems to be embarrassingly typical of our society 
which is impatient with anything that is not instant. We want 
everything to be sensational and we want it right now. That 
goes for instant breakfast, instant coffee, instant credit, 
instant faith. However, if we want to be expert clarinetists. 


What Do an Ancient Home and a 
Modem Church Have in Common? — 17 

we have to pay the price in training and discipline. If we want 
a meaningful prayer life, we have to pay the price of practice 
and discipline. 

One of the stories told about Beethoven is that after 
finishing a concert in which he had played exceedingly well, 
he was surrounded by admirers. They couldn't say enough 
about his piano magic. One particularly enthusiastic woman 
said, ''Oh, if God had just given me that gift of genius!" 
Beethoven replied, ''It is not genius nor magic, madame. All 
you need do is practice the piano eight hours a day for forty 
years, and you'll be as good as I am." 

The church offers training every week. It is not offered in 
a spectacular, super-gigantic way. Through its educational 
and worshiping ministry, it offers a consistent and steady 
diet of training. 

Like the Nazarene family that set such a good example, 
the church offers necessary food and protection and train- 
ing. Its example isn't as good as Mary's and Joseph's. Often 
we fail to respond as well as Jesus did. Above all, perhaps we 
need to go back in thought to our starting point of abuse and 
make sure we church members do not abuse — wrongly use 
— each other. 

The gifts offered by those parents and the acceptance by 
that child made an ordinary home life an extraordinary 
training ground for the life and mission of God's Son. As 
Mary and Joseph gave the best they had to Jesus, and he 
responded, so the church attempts to give her best to us. 
Will we accept what she offers? 


In the Temple At Twelve 

Luke 2:41-52 


He Didn't Go Unprepared! 

A man walked out of church one Sunday morning and 
said, ''My name is Woodrow Wilson." Immediately, dates, 
places, and events flashed through my mind: My father's 
favorite president, Alexander Knox who portrayed Wilson 
in a movie, biographies I have read, The League of Nations, 
Edith, the stroke, the heartbreak over his emotional deterio- 
ration, his tomb in the National Cathedral. We are told that 
the brain is like a giant computer, taping and filing our 
experiences. A word, a thought, or a name can cause the 
brain to pull one of those tapes out of the file and bring to the 
forefront a lot of stored-up information. That's what hap- 
pened when that stranger told me his name. I smilingly 
replied, 'T've heard of you." 

We've all had that experience. Someone makes a remark 
or we see something and we come out with, ''Oh, that 
reminds me. . ." — andoff the computer goes with all kinds 
of memories. It's interesting to sit with older persons and 
listen to them reminisce. The other evening I listened as an 
eighty-five-year-old man told of his World War I ex- 
periences. I was fascinated by the way his mind could recall 
details of things that happened sixty-three years ago. He told 
them as if they had happened last week. Evidently a com- 
ment in our conversation brought out some tapes his com- 
puter had stored and preserved for all those years. 

Some of our brain computers release a lot of information 
when we enter the sanctuary of Edenton Street United 
Methodist Church. We remember weddings and funerals 
and worship services that were special to us. Seeing the 
stained glass windows can activate our tapes. The Joseph 
window easily sends me back in memory to a classroom in 
the basement of Long Memorial Church, where Nannie 
McBroom told us preschoolers about a technicolor coat. A 


He Didn't Go Unprepared! — 18 

tape of Boy Scout Camp and an amateur dramatization of a 
parable of Jesus are played on my computer as I look at the 
panel of the Good Samaritan. Conjuring up memories may 
be one of the purposes of the windows. 

In one of those windows there is a young boy surrounded 
by a group of older men. Our computers tell us immediately 
that here is the twelve-year-old Jesus being questioned by 
the Jewish authorities. We recall that his parents had taken 
him with them to Jerusalem for some kind of holiday. On 
their way back to Nazareth, they discovered that Jesus was 
missing. Their search for him ended in the temple. There he 
was, not only asking the religious experts questions but also 
answering their questions! His mother expressed her anxi- 
ety, which her young son couldn't understand. Our tapes 
may also remind us that this is the only information in the 
Bible about Jesus' childhood. 

It would be easy for us to dismiss our relationship to this 
scene by saying, 'That was Jesus and even at twelve we 
expect him to be unusual." Although the conversation he 
had with the temple leaders is not recorded, it is made clear 
that they were amazed at his intelligence and the answers he 
gave to their questions; it was rare for a boy of his age to 
have such insight. But I believe his participation in the 
temple discussion that day was related to what had been 
happening every day of his life up to then. There was nothing 
magical or supernatural going on, although that may have 
appeared to be the case. Jesus knew some things before he 
arrived at the temple that day; he didn't go unprepared. Such 
knowledge did not fall out of the sky at the appropriate 
moment, nor was it whispered in his ear. It was the result of 
some ordinary things that had taken place in his home . There 
the family's religion was practiced, the faith of his parents 
was in evidence, and a creative partnership existed between 
his home and the synagogue. This scene is rather ex- 
traordinary after all : just think of a twelve-year-old engaging 
in a theological conversation with some of our bishops 

Let's look at the family religion, parental faith, and 
home-church partnership — ordinary things — which pre- 


He Didnt Go Unprepared! — 18 

pared him for this moment and made the sharing of ideas 

A number of persons in the miHtary reserve were called to 
active duty in the early 1950's because of our nation's in- 
volvement in the Korean strife. This meant that families 
were disrupted as they moved from civilian life to military 
life. One soldier, with his family, was living in a hotel near an 
army base. The manager, sympathetic with their confine- 
ment to one room, allowed the three small children to use the 
lobby as a play area. One day someone noticed one of the 
little girls playing ''house" in a corner of the lobby. She had 
made a dining table with her tea set, seated her dolls around 
it, and was having a ''conversation" with them. "It's too 
bad that you don't have a home," the observer said to the 
little girl. "Oh, we have a home," the child answered imme- 
diately, "We just don't have a house to put it in right now." 

That was a lot of insight for a small child, insight which 
didn't come suddenly, like "a bolt out of the blue." She 
didn't have sentimental feelings about a building some- 
where, or a generalized concept of what a home should be. 
Her family environment had given her the sure knowledge 
that it takes more than a house to make a home. 

The home of Mary and Joseph was the kind of place where 
religious truth and religious practice were a normal and 
natural part of everyday life. That's why Jesus could ask 
intelligent questions that day and understand the answers. 
He was growing up in a home where religion was a part of 
every phase of family life. God, and that Nazarene family's 
belief in God, dominated their lives . When they entered their 
home, they placed their fingers tenderly on a doorpost re- 
minder of God and offered a prayer as they passed over the 
threshold. When they ate their meals, they expressed 
thanksgiving to the Creator who provided the food. Every 
morning and evening Joseph called his family together for 
prayer. The religious practices were explained as they ob- 
served various feast days and ceremonies in their home. 

When the twelve-year-old Jesus was in the temple, it was 
very natural for him to be able to ask and answer questions 
about the faith. Has it ever occurred to us what might have 


He Didnt Go Unprepared! — 18 

happened if Mary and Joseph had neglected the religious 
training of their children the way over fifty percent of us 
American parents do? 

I have read that sometimes a juvenile judge will put a 
youngster on probation and give him specific instructions to 
attend Sunday School and church. The judge may even 
question parents about the family's religious life. One judge 
was hearing the case of a twelve-year-old who was charged 
with vandalism. In talking with his parents, the judge asked 
if the boy went to Sunday School. ''Well, he hasn't been for 
several years," was the reply. The mother gave the excuse: 
"We are building a house out from the city. My husband is 
tied up with his job all week, so we go out on Sundays to 
work on the house." 

The judge said, 'Tt seems to me you have been so busy 
building a house, you haven't had time to make a home for 
this boy. That's why he's in trouble." 

Jesus' home was an ordinary, first-century Jewish home 
where prayer, scripture reading, synagogue attendance, and 
ethical living were a normal part of the daily diet. Family 
religion, practiced faithfully, can make a difference in what 
happens to twelve-year-olds. 

Another ordinary thing behind this scene in the window is 
parental faith. When those parents finally found their son in 
the temple, Mary let him know how worried they had been. 
His response to her was a compliment to their faith: ''Why 
are you so surprised to find me here? You taught me that I 
should be in my Father's house." He didn't go unprepared. 

Parental faith is the basis of good practice in family reli- 
gion, and the young Jesus had inherited much of that faith 
from his father and mother. He was still in the process of 
fashioning his own faith, which was the reason for the ques- 
don and answer session in the temple. Jesus was dependent 
on the faith of his parents, evidenced by the way he later 
referred to some things he had learned at home. There he 
was given the kind of foundation life must be built upon. 
There he discovered what must be planted in life to insure a 
good harvest. 

Where did Jesus discover his insight into how a father 
loved his children if not from Joseph? I think his concept of 


He Didnt Go Unprepared! — 18 

God was enriched because Joseph was patient and forgiving 
and loving. Jesus would have been saddened to hear of the 
minister who went to preach at a boy's correctional school 
and was told by the chaplain to avoid any reference to the 
Fatherhood of God; many of those boys were imprisoned 
because of their fathers' failures to be loving. 

Jesus learned a lot from Mary and Joseph. He learned that 
spiritual values are supreme. His parents could offer him 
little material wealth, but he received from them a knowl- 
edge that life can be vital and dynamic if love and service to 
God and man come first. They also emphasized the impor- 
tance of religious habits. There was no question about home 
devotions and synagogue worship. When they arose on the 
Sabbath there was no ''will we? — won't we?" go to the 
synagogue today. It was understood what that family would 
do. The parents of Jesus offered no cop-out for their respon- 
sibility by saying Jesus could make up his mind about his 
religious faith; they didn't want to force anything on him. He 
made his own decisions in matters of religion, but he had a 
firm foundation for making them. Generally, parents who 
support the idea of letting a child wait until he or she is grown 
to decide about religious affiliation are parents who have not 
been vitally involved in any church, and are actually unable 
to advise their children when it comes to faith and religious 

A friend and I were riding through Bladen County late one 
night after attending a meeting near Wilmington. When we 
passed through Elizabethtown, I remarked that my parents 
had brought us children to Sunday School and church there 
whenever we were vacationing at White Lake. In my years 
of growing up, my folks never actually said for me to give my 
heart to Jesus. But there was never any question about what 
our family was to do on Sunday morning. Whether we were 
home or on vacation, we went to Sunday School and church. 
I profited by my parents' faith. 

We cannot leave out the all-important creative relation- 
ship that existed between that Nazarene home and the 
synagogue. We can see from the window that Jesus' interest 
had probably surpassed his parents' sphere of knowledge. 

Haven't we all been frustrated when our children ask 


He Didnt Go Unprepared!— 18 

questions we cannot answer, especially in certain school 
subjects like math, physics, or chemistry? We may have 
difficulty explaining family relationships, such as why Uncle 
Joe and Aunt Sue can't get along, or why some cousin is a 
slow learner. And haven't most of us asked for help when a 
child comes with baffling religious questions: What does 
death mean? Where did God come from? Why was Jesus 
killed? Why are there so many different churches? 

Surely Mary and Joseph ran into this with Jesus. They 
were probably relieved that he could find some answers that 
day. He found some answers they could not give. 

This clearly points out the creative relationship that needs 
to exist between the home and the church in the religious 
nurture of children. The home cannot do it all, and neither 
can the church. Today the biggest problem in Christian 
education is not that so little time is available each week, but 
that we parents fail to cooperate with the church in its efforts 
to help our children. The church has an obligation to provide 
materials and place and personnel (although I'm sad to say 
that the hardest to provide is the latter — we just don't want 
to commit ourselves to teach Sunday after Sunday after 
Sunday). The home is responsible to see that church atten- 
dance is a priority, to incorporate experiences there into 
family living. A mother stopped me in the narthex one Sun- 
day and said, ''My ten-year-old daughter understands what 
is said in the sermon, and we talk about it when we get 
home." That's it. That's a partnership of home and church. 

The sanctuary window gives us rich insight into the im- 
portance of ordinary family religion, parental faith, and the 
partnership of home and church and the extraordinary re- 
sult. If it happened in Jesus' home, it can happen in our 
homes. If it does, the record will read: ''Helped by the faith 
these children found at home and church, they increased in 
wisdom and in favor with God and man." 


The Disciples Matthew 4:18-20 


Which One of the Twelve? 

It was Saturday morning. Having finished my prepara- 
tions for the Sunday service, I was ready to go to the 
sanctuary to make a last check to see that everything was in 
order. My study was on the second floor of the church 
school building, and as I started down the steps, I heard 
voices. ''I don't know what he means by letting that guy 
come here," was the first distinct thing I heard. I had a 
fleeting temptadon to hold back to hear some more, but my 
ethical standards refused to let me eavesdrop. At the foot of 
the stairs I came upon two church trustees. 

One of them immediately tried to cover up their conver- 
sation by explaining why they were there. ''We are here to 
check on the air conditioning," he said. By this time I knew 
which man had made the statement that I overheard. 

"You might as well know what we were talking about," 
he addressed me. ''You've got to do something about that 
new associate minister." 

"What do you mean, Ben?" I inquired. 

"Get him to shave that beard or leave. And if you don't, I 
know ten people who are leaving the church." 

The annual conference had, a month or so prior to that 
time, appointed a new minister to our staff. He was young, 
good-looking, and well-dressed, and he drove a sporty car. 
With all these assets, plus his innate ability, he presented an 
attractive image of the ministry to the youth of our congre- 
gation. He had been accepted as a vital addition, and there 
had already been good response to his work. Then he started 
growing a beard and as it became more prominent, so did the 


Which One of the Twelve? — 19 

ripples of criticism. I knew what was going on, but this was 
the first ultimatum Td been issued. 

''Ben," I said to that church trustee, ''You know I have 
no control over what Bill does with his face. He is the same 
person, with or without the hair. You and I both know what 
he is doing for the church's youth. Ask your son about it. 
Name the ten people who are leaving." 

"I'm not calling any names, but you can bet that I'm one 
of them," was his last comment. 

"Come on, Ben, get off your high horse," the other 
trustee advised him. 

As I walked on toward the sanctuary, I kept thinking how 
difficult it was for Ben to accept any kind of change. We had 
had a clean-shaven associate minister for four years which 
was fine with Ben, but Bill's different look threw him. I 
knew Ben had this same difficulty with change in his busi- 
ness, in the school system, and with the youth culture, 
especially as it affected his own son. 

Ben is not alone in his plight, for all of us find it hard to 
change. The bookPassages by Gail Sheehy has a lot of good 
insights into some of our life crises, and it talks about how 
sudden change is always threatening to us. Like Ben, all of 
us live with the inevitability of change. Some of the changes 
are totally unexpected and unavoidable; some are devas- 
tating. The death of a mate, for instance, turns our way of life 
upside down. We are thrown into another world, single 
again and lonely. A few months ago an automobile accident 
left a twenty-year-old boy an invalid, paralyzed, unable to 
talk. In a fraction of a second, a terrifyng change over- 
whelmed Rick and his family. A sickness that slowly debili- 
tates us affects our routine. Any such event can so break the 
rhythm of our lives that we are never the same persons 

There are other changes that are easier to take and more 
routine, like moving to a new house or to a different city, or 
taking another job, but even these have hidden problems. 
No one I know really likes to make changes merely for the 
sake of changing. All of us have a tendency to get into a 
pleasant rut. We willingly obey an old sign on a dirt road: 


Which One of the Twelve? — 19 

"Be careful which rut you get into, for you'll be in it for the 
next twenty-five miles." 

Since we do resist change and like our routines, it is a 
wonder that we, or anyone, would want to follow Jesus. 
There is no question that he calls us to change. 

The scriptures from Matthew and a window in the Eden- 
ton Street United Methodist Church sanctuary tell a story 
about two men who made a drastic change in their life- 
styles. We can almost hear Jesus saying, ''Come, follow me. 
I will make you fishers of men." Responding to that invita- 
tion changed everything for those two, as for the other ten 
men who accepted Jesus' call. It changed the way they 
looked at life, their concepts of one another, their attitudes, 
their thoughts about God. 

The one thing we always need to keep in mind when we 
think about the twelve disciples of Jesus is that they were 
ordinary people, the common folk of that day. They were 
like us. None of them were wealthy, academically superior, 
or socially prominent. They were not trained theologians 
nor high-ranking churchmen. They were ordinary yet differ- 
ent, with varied traits, talents, looks, personalities. I find it 
quite interesting to glance over that mixture and see how 
much we are like them. They are fascinating people to study, 
and it is even more fascinating to see where you and I fit in. 
Which one of the twelve are we like? Or are we a combina- 
tion of two or more of them? 

Peter had a yo-yo faith. He was up and down, up and 
down in his commitment. He ran hot and then cold. At one 
time he declared his loyalty to Christ to highest heaven, and 
within a few hours denied that he had ever known him. 
Sometimes we church members are like this disciple, on 
again, off again. We welcome a minister we like and we are 
full of enthusiasm, but when we have one we don't like, we 
cool off very quickly. We become nostalgic at Christmas and 
declare that we are going to start attending church regularly 
again, but by the end of January our enthusiasm fades. 

Peter's hroihtr Andrew knew where he stood but didn't 
have to shout his faith from the housetops. He was willing to 
work in the background and let his brother be out front. One 


Which One of the Twelve? — 19 

day, instead of directing traffic on a hillside, he was getting 
to know the folks, so when the people grew hungry, he knew 
who had some bread and fish. The church has a lot of 
Andrews, which is the reason it continues to move forward. 
These are the members who are always there, serving and 
giving without any fanfare. Jesus referred to such people as 
"the salt of the earth." 

James had a great desire to be important, to have power. 
He was just the opposite of Andrew. Once he even asked if 
he could have one of the prominent seats in the Kingdom. 
There are those of us who serve well, but we are constantly 
willing for the church to stroke us. We demand recognition 
for what we do, to keep our sagging egos properly boosted. 

John, the fourth disciple, was a mixture of tenderness and 
temper. He wanted Jesus to destroy a town where the people 
would not listen to him; yet he was called the beloved and, at 
the cross, assumed the care of the mother of his Lord. A lot 
of us are mixtures of temper and tenderness. 

The seven last words of the church, ''We have always 
done it this way," must have been coined by Philip, the 
traditionalist. Like Ben, he was hesitant to make any 
changes and wanted things to remain the same. I almost 
believe that he would say that we must sing the Gloria Patri, 
use the Apostles' Creed, and pray the Lord's Prayer every 
Sunday if we really expect to have a worship experience. 

Even though he wasn't usually open to change, Philip 
recognized the Messiah and went all the way to Cana to let 
his friend Nathanael know that Jesus of Nazareth was the 
one of whom the prophets had spoken. The fifth disciple was 
a bit skeptical at first. ''Can any good come out of Naza- 
reth?" he asked Philip. Nathanael was prejudiced. He had 
made up his mind that Jesus' home town had a doubtful 
reputation and loose morals, and no one of good character 
could emerge from that environment. Do we have to look 
very far to find some of us who carry fixed ideas about a 
race, or a family, or a group? 

Thomas was a doubter. He didn't accept any new concept 
until he had all the proof within his grasp. He even had some 
difficulty accepting the faith because he didn't understand it 


Which One of the Twelve? — 19 

completely. This sounds familiar to a lot of us, but like 
Thomas we are neither heretics nor disqualified followers. 

Each disciple had a talent that was essential to Jesus' 
mission. Matthew was a businessman, whose organizational 
ability assured the wise use of every resource. Any skill we 
have, from cooking to singing, from mailing to teaching, 
from cleaning to administering, is needed in the work of the 

There were two disciples about whom we know nothing, 
except that their names appear on all four lists. They are 
Thaddaeus and another James, called the Lesser. They 
were the silent ones, doing what was needed when it was 
needed. The silent forces play a major role in any human 
achievement. In the church, there are a host of quiet people 
who have no idea how important their dedicated efforts are. 

The eleventh disciple was Simon the Zealot, a patriot 
singing, ''God bless Israel" and adopting as his motto, 
''Country above all else". His enthusiasm, sometimes mis- 
directed and misplaced, added a necessary ingredient to that 
apostolic group. There are some of us who have a hard time 
drawing the line between patriotism and faith. 

Judas, whose name we can't forget, allowed his greed and 
resentment and disappointment to make him drop out. The 
church still loses many capable people for those same rea- 

Twelve people are a lot of folks to look at in one sermon, 
especially when we could take any one of them and develop 
a sermon. Looking at all twelve at once does help us realize 
two things. It shows us first of all what ordinary men those 
disciples were. They were not saints. They had their faults 
and misgivings, as well as their abilities and talents. It points 
out again how God works through ordinary people, using 
their complementary abilities to accomplish his son's mis- 
sion. Looking at all twelve also shows how a mixture of 
personalities can come together in a common cause, if the 
cause is great enough. For example, if Matthew and Simon 
the Zealot had met each other in any other cause, there 
might have been a murder. Matthew collected taxes for the 
Roman government so he was regarded as a quisling, a 


Which One of the Twelve? — 19 

traitor to his own country, the moral enemy of Simon the 
patriot. Their faith in Jesus brought them together, as 
nothing else on earth could have. 

Jesus was able to use a variety of people who chose to 
respond to him, and his spirit invited them in to a mission 
that changed the world. That calling and that mission are still 
going on today, for: 

''Jesus calls us o'er the tumult 
Of our life's wild, restless sea. 
Day by day his clear voice soundeth, 
Saying, Christian, follow me." 

If we will follow, God can merge our ordinary mixture of 
personalities into an extraordinary church. 


The Feeding of The Five Thousand 

John 6:1-5 


Let Go! This is My Carrot! 

Years ago I read an unforgettable story by the Russian 
novelist Dostoevsky. He tells about a woman who died and 
who was in his words, ''consigned to eternal torment." She 
was in agony and cried out for mercy. Finally an angel said to 
her, "I can help you if you can remember one altogether 
unselfish thing you did while on earth." That seemed easy 
enough when she remembered the contributions she had 
made, the charitable works she had done, and the good 
deeds she had performed. When she began to recite all 
these, she realized that she had done every one of them for a 
selfish reason. Forced to admit to herself that her giving and 
good deeds had been done for recognition and admiration, 
she became desperate. Finally, about to abandon all hope, 
she remembered a carrot she once gave a beggar. She hesi- 
tated to mention it because it was dried up, and she was 
planning to throw it in the garbage. As a last resort, she told 
the angel about the withered carrot. He consulted the record 
which showed that the act had not been prompted by self- 
ishness. It was not a great unselfish act but it would do. So 
down through the limitless space that separates heaven and 
hell, the story goes, that carrot was lowered on a string. It 
didn't seem possible to the woman that such a weak thing 
could bear her weight and lift her out of such torment, but in 
her desperation she reached up and grabbed it. As she held 
on, the carrot slowly began to rise. All at once she felt a 
weight dragging at her feet and discovered other tormented 
souls clinging to her, hoping to escape with her. ' ' Let go ! Let 
go!" she cried out, ''This carrot won't hold all of us." They 
continued to hold on, so she cried out again, "Let go! This is 
my carrot!" At that point the string broke, and, still clutch- 
ing the carrot she had reclaimed as her own, the woman fell 
back into the pains of hell. 

I don't like the imagery of heaven and hell in that story. 


Let Go! This Is My Carrot!— 20 

but I like the significance of the story. It points out what we 
do to ourselves when we Hve by a selfish philosophy, when 
we are guided by ''what's mine is mine." The carrot story 
reminds me of a lunch box that had several sandwiches and a 
few sardines. This particular lunch box exploded and ex- 
panded to feed over five thousand people. There is a panel in 
one of the sanctuary windows at Edenton Street United 
Methodist Church that shows the lunch box. There's an 
exciting story about how it arrived on the hillside and 
reached Jesus' hands. 

It must have been a breathtakingly beautiful day out on 
that mountain near the Galilean Sea. The sky was clear and 
blue, the air crisp and fresh. The scene is easy for us to 
imagine for that countryside must have been very much like 
that of Western North Carolina. A crowd of over five thou- 
sand people sat down on the newly-green grass with that 
panoramic view before them to listen to Jesus speak. 

How did such a crowd gather there? The four writers who 
record the incident in the Bible offer a couple of ex- 
planations. Mark says the followers of Jesus had been sent 
out to do some missionary work. When they returned, they 
needed time for peace and quiet, so Jesus suggested that 
they go on a retreat up on the northern shore of Lake Galilee. 
Matthew tells us that John the Baptist had just been killed by 
King Herod; reading the account, we're aware that Matthew 
senses the shock and anguish this heartbreaking news 
brought. When Jesus heard that the brave and beloved John 
was dead, he ''went off to a remote area to be alone" in his 
grief. The multitudes who gathered wherever Jesus was saw 
where the disciples were headed and followed. That meant 
no time to recuperate from their wearisome work nor any 
chance to adjust to their loss. Any one of us would have been 
worn out and distressed to see our plans thwarted, but Jesus 
"had compassion on them and began to teach and to heal 

The disciples took it as long as they could. As it grew later 
in the afternoon, they became concerned about supper. 
They had brought along a few provisions for their retreat, 
but they would hardly fill the hollow teeth of that crowd. 


Let Go! This Is My Carrot!— 20 

They counseled together and came to the conclusion that the 
crowd would just have to leave. So they said to Jesus, "It is 
already past suppertime. There is nothing here to eat. Dis- 
miss these people so they can go to the villages and buy food 
on their way home." 

'That isn't necessary," Jesus said. ''You feed them." 

"What? Feed five thousand people!" they retorted. 

Philip said, "We don't even have enough money to buy 
food for this many people. Even if we did, the nearest place 
to buy anything is a mile and a half away." 

Then Andrew spoke. "There's a boy here with five barley 
loaves and two fish." He knew the tension was mounfing 
and must have realized how ridiculous it was to mention one 
lunch box when five thousand people were hungry, so he 
added, "I guess that won't help much with all this mob!" 

The one box was all Jesus needed. The story of that boy 
and his box is written in scripture to remind us what a small, 
everyday, common contribution can do. He didn't hide his 
lunch somewhere under a rock. He must have been hungry, 
as boys usually are, but his generosity was even greater than 
his hunger. It is incredible that after all these years we are 
sfill talking about the potential wealth of a boy's lunch box. 
We haven't quite learned the lesson it teaches. We are still 
just talking about it. 

Jesus took what the boy offered. The people sat down in 
clusters of fifty. After giving thanks (that prayer must have 
been one of gratitude for an unselfish lad), Jesus had the 
disciples distribute the food among the one hundred groups. 
He took what was offered and used it. Jesus still takes what 
is offered and uses it. 

This incident is recorded by all four of the gospel writers. 
None of them offers a slick explanation as to what really 
happened. They say simply that five thousand people were 
fed. Scripture always leaves the unsayable unsaid. It makes 
the announcement and then leaves it up to every age to fill in 
the details. The Bible does not care how Jesus did it, or how 
God did it. 

A lot of explanations have evolved about what really did 
occur that afternoon. One explanation is that this was not a 


Let Go! This Is My Carrot!— 20 

real meal served on the mountainside. It was a communion 
service. In reading John' s account we find that Jesus ends up 
talking about himself as the Bread of Life. If we come to him, 
he says, we will never be hungry. If we believe in him, we 
will never be thirsty. 

When we participate in the Lord's Supper in a church 
service, we have just a tiny piece of bread and one good 
swallow of juice. Symbolically, that small amount is sup- 
posed to help us leave the table with new strength, with a 
renewed awareness of Jesus' presence. It is a spiritual meal. 
It has been suggested that this may have been what hap- 
pened that day. The presence of Jesus and the reality of God 
turned those crumbs of bread and morsels of fish into 
something that spiritually nourished the hearts and souls of 
those five thousand people. It was a spiritual meal. 

Another explanation is that Jesus actually multiplied the 
loaves and fish. We've imagined him waving his hands over 
that lunch box so that it expanded into many loaves and 
many fish. In fact, there were so many leftovers that they 
filled a dozen bushel baskets. 

Some of us may have difficulty with this because Jesus 
had refused to do that very thing when he had begun his 
ministry a few months before. In the wilderness as he was 
sorfing out his priorities and deciding how to go about his 
work, he said he would not turn stones into bread. He knew 
that magic is powerless to make any difference beyond the 

There is a third and very lovely explanation. It contends 
that not everyone in that crowd left on a nine-mile expedi- 
tion without making some preparations. Like that little boy, 
a lot of people must have brought along something to eat. On 
the other hand, many of them had decided to leave on the 
spur of the moment and hadn't brought anything along. 
Those who had some provisions refused to bring them out 
for the simple and human reason that they wanted to keep it 
all for themselves. They planned to eat once they had left the 
crowd. When they saw the boy give Jesus his five loaves and 
two fish, they thought how sweet he was to make such an 
offer. ''That's just like a child," they may have murmured to 
each other. 


Let Go! This Is My Carrot!— 20 

Jesus stood before that crowd and said, 'This is all the 
food I have, just what this boy has given me. Let's share it." 
When he said that, everyone who had a lunch box tucked 
away under a rock or within the fold of a robe brought it out. 
They pooled what they had, spread it all out, and everyone 
had enough to eat. 

If we accept this explanation, I think it's more miraculous 
than the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. It is the 
ordinary becoming extraordinary, Jesus' influence changing 
a crowd of selfish people into a crowd of people willing to 
share what they had. Instead of sacrificing the miraculous, 
this concept substitutes a lasting miracle for temporary 
magic. Here was a group of people whose only thought was 
to keep what they had for themselves, miraculously changed 
into a people who were enabled to share what they had. It is 
a miracle when the ordinary becomes extraordinary. We are 
eternally awed, not when material goods magically expand, 
but when men and women are converted. 

A member of our congregation told me she almost inter- 
rupted the sermon one Sunday. ''What you are telling us," 
she wanted to get up and say, "is that the picture of any one 
of us could be up there in one of those windows!" That's 
exactly right. Your image or mine could be superimposed 
over that of the young boy, and we would be offering our 
lunch box to Jesus. If we did that, then this ordinary church 
would become extraordinary. 

It's a lovely story and the panel in that window is beauti- 
ful. I wonder, in light of what we now know could happen if 
each of us offered what we have, why most of us keep 
saying, "Let go! This is my carrot!" 


The Woman Who Touched His Rohe 

Mark 5:25-34 


Reach Out and Touch 

A few evenings ago I listened to some friends describe 
their recent trip to the Holy Land. I've read enough about 
that little country of Palestine to be able to follow the de- 
scriptions of what they saw. They both had difficulty with 
some of the commercialization in and around Jerusalem, but 
in Galilee there was so much natural beauty that they could 
almost picture Jesus in some of the New Testament settings. 

That's what I'd like for us to be able to do in this sermon. 
I'd like for us to picture in our minds that region where Jesus 
lived. Rectangular in shape, Palestine is not as large as 
North Carolina. In fact, it's only about 220 miles from north 
to south and 100 miles from east to west. If we could take our 
state and turn it sideways , we would have a good idea of how 
Palestine looks. Up in the right hand corner there is the Sea 
of Galilee, which is really a large fresh water lake. On the 
northwestern shore of that sea is the city of Capernaum, one 
of the most important cities of the first century. It was in and 
around Capernaum that Jesus carried out most of his minis- 

In our imagination, let's go back in time to Capernaum in 
about 30 A.D. Wearing robes and sandals, let's join a crowd 
of people standing on the shore of Lake Galilee watching a 
little boat make its way across the water. Jesus and his 
twelve disciples are coming across the lake. When the boat 
docks, there is a sense of excitement and expectancy as 
Jesus steps oi;t and stands on the beach, ready to teach. We 
are eager to hear what he has to say. 

Before Jesus has a chance to say anything, we notice a 
ruffling in the crowd about us because someone is making 


Reach Out and Touch — 21 

his way up front. Catching a ghmpse of the man, we recog- 
nize him immediately. He is Jairus, president of one of the 
local synagogues. Rushing right up to Jesus, he pleads, ''My 
little girl is sick. We know she's dying. If you will come right 
now and put your hands on her, she will be well. I know she 

Then an amazing thing happens. Jesus, known for his care 
for individuals, turns from this marvelous teaching opportu- 
nity and this crowd gathered to hear him and goes off with 
that distressed father. If you have as much curiosity as that 
crowd and I, you'll turn on your heels with us and follow to 
see what Jesus does about that sick child. 

The streets of Capernaum are narrow, so we are acciden- 
tally bumping into one another as we walk along. We try to 
stay within earshot to catch anything Jesus might say and of 
course to be able to see if he does anything. Following that 
anxious father, we are all walking quite briskly. We watch 
Jesus, bump against one another, mumble words of apology, 
stumble over rough cobblestones, and smile at friends in a 
kind of hushed atmosphere. Suddenly, right in the middle of 
the street, Jesus stops. All of us stop. He looks intently 
about and asks, ''Who touched me?" 

It sounds like a foolish question. With this crowd on this 
narrow street, any one of a number of people could have 
touched him. I imagine the father of the sick child is rather 
distressed at this delay. The disciples are impatient. Simon 
Peter blurts out, "You see this crowd pushing and shoving. 
Anyone could have accidentally touched you." But Jesus 
insists that someone deliberately touched him. Again he 
asks, "Who touched me?" 

A woman in the crowd speaks up, confessing that she 
touched him because she desperately needs to be healed. 
She tells her whole story, including every cure she has tried 
to stop her bleeding. As a last resort, she has come to Jesus, 
thinking that perhaps just touching his robe might help her. 

A window in our sanctuary shows her reaching out for 
Jesus. We know now that her reaching out healed her sick- 
ness, dissolved her shame, overcame her fear, put an end to 
the loneliness inherent in her illness. The Bible does not 
explain what happened medically, psychologically, or reli- 


Reach Out and Touch — 21 

giously. It simply states that she was cured and her life 
transformed. The most exciting thing is that what Jesus of- 
fered her that day in Palestine, he offers us today. 

We find that this story is so up-to-date, so ordinary and 
typical as we listen to Mark's account: 'There was a woman 
who had been sick for twelve years. She had been to many 
for healing but was no better. In fact, she was worse." She 
came to Jesus as a last resort. Doesn't that sound familiar? 
How many of us find ourselves in a situation where nothing 
we might do could make things any worse? How many of us 
will try almost anything, listen to any advice, follow any 
plan, try any trick because nothing could make a situation 
any worse than it already is? In fact, some situations become 
so unbearable that we might even try religion. 'T've tried 
everything else," we decide. 'T might as well give God a 

How often we make Christ the last resort, the last ditch, 
the refuge from dying — rather than making him the primary 
citadel, the stronghold, the first line of defense. Our leap of 
faith does sometimes become an act of desperation, another 
physician among the many others we have tried. 

For example, a marriage is on the verge of collapse. It 
hasn't happened overnight, for the couple has been drifting 
apart for years, so slowly that they have scarcely noticed. 
They finally begin to sense the sickness in their marriage and 
take certain steps to recapture a meaningful relationship. 
They try separate vacations and separate bedrooms. They 
increase their social pace or their drinking habits. They seek 
outside help and spend money on counseling and group 
therapy. Conditions do not improve and they both are suf- 
fering emotionally, physically, and materially. Finally, they 
decide on a divorce. One wonders what might have hap- 
pened if these troubled persons had reached for the hem of 
Christ's robe — even reluctantly. Getting in touch with 
Christ might have carried with it the possibilities of open- 
ness to one another, a sense that life together is worth 
greater effort and deeper commitment, an acceptance of one 
another's imperfections, and an understanding that fidelity 
and solidarity in human relationships demand hard work and 
inevitable struggle. 


Reach Out and Touch — 21 

We know a lot of physicians who are presumptuous 
enough to think they can cure the illnesses of our world. 
Politicians, educators, clergymen, social workers, business 
men, newspaper editors, and homemakers all want to play 
physician to the sickness of society. Many of us have a 
favorite cancer we want to exorcise. The cure we offer 
would rid the world of this or that type of person, this or that 
type of ideology. ''Blowup the Pentagon," say the pacifists. 
''Rid us of the nationalists," say the internationalists. "Get 
rid of the honky," says the black racist, and at the same 
moment the white racist advises us to send the blacks back 
to Africa. The capitalists want to wipe out communism and 
the communists want to bury the capitalists. "Stamp out 
male chauvinists" and "dismantle the establishment" are 
familiar battle cries. Exorcising people or ideologies rather 
than helping persons discover God's way for their lives 
leaves us all worse off than before. 

One man said that overpopulation is the scourge of the 
future. It was his feeling that American foreign aid was 
increasing this problem and that we ought to terminate pri- 
vate and governmental efforts to sustain life in underde- 
veloped areas. Future Americans could be assured of plenty 
if we would not assume responsibility for today's world 
hunger problems. That solution is so inhumane that we 
shrug it off as ridiculous. But that's not our only ridiculous 

We seek to cure racial wounds with money, court injunc- 
tions, congressional legislation and inspections by Health, 
Education, and Welfare officials. All of these help, but that 
kind of cure is like taking aspirin for a gunshot wound. Why 
do we wait so long to look for the healing of Christ in this 
matter? He declares that we are equal and he can break 
down any barriers that separate us. 

When any human problem besets us or life begins to close 
in, when our cities fall or our personal lives disintegrate, it 
seems that we seek answers from every other physician 
before we reach for Christ's help and healing. More bombs, 
more propaganda, more jail sentences are our cures. We try 
to solve our troubles with alcohol, divorce, medication, 
social involvement. We are reluctant to place our municipal 


Reach Out and Touch — 21 

or our foreign policies at his disposal. We resist putting our 
prejudices, our pride, our hatreds into his transforming 
hands. We muddle around in quackery and in desperation. 
How long will it be before we reach out to snatch a piece of 
that garment that teaches us how to become new persons, 
healed of self-centeredness and prejudice, filled with God's 

It may sound naive, innocent, unrealistic, but in the New 
Testament alone we find true healing. We have turned to 
other books, sought out other cures and spent ourselves on 
other remedies, but we are no better off. Jesus alone can 
redeem and restore and empower us. His presence is not 
only for our last days when we're dying, but for now — while 
we're Hving. He is not only for those of us who are miserably 
desperate, but also for those of us who are serenely confi- 
dent. We simply need to follow the Capernaum woman and 
reach out and touch the hem of his garment. That will 
guarantee healing of anything — anything that might be 
destroying us. 

A minister writes of an experience he had while serving 
his first church. Whenever he went to the barber shop, he 
was appalled at the language of one of the barbers. He recalls 
that without a doubt the barber was the most vulgar and 
profane man he had ever known. ''He must have had some 
kind of fixation for preachers," he writes, "for it seemed 
that every time I entered the shop, he doubled his output." 

One day when he went to get a hair cut that barber was 
gone. When he inquired about him, he was told that he had 
been desperately sick and had almost died. About six weeks 
later, as the young minister was entering the post office, he 
heard a faint voice calling his name. He turned and saw the 
barber sitting in an automobile. Someone had driven him 
downtown and parked the car outside so that he could watch 
the people pass by. The minister noticed how frail the man 
looked as he walked over to speak. The man's voice was so 
weak that he had to lean down to catch the words. 

"Preacher," he said, "I want to tell you something. I was 
in a coma down there in the hospital. I could not move or 
see, but I could hear. I heard the doctor tell my wife that he 
didn't think I could live another hour." 


Reach Out and Touch — 21 

Then his voice broke so that it was a moment before he 
could continue. 'T never prayed in my entire life, but I 
prayed then. I said, 'O God, if there is a God, I need you 
now.' And when I said that, I knew God was right there with 

Tears came to his eyes as he finished. ''Oh, Preacher, just 
imagine! I've kicked God in the face every day of my life for 
sixty years. And the first time I called his name, he came." 

With our slightest effort to reach out to Christ, at the 
gentlest touch of his garment, he can heal us — now. That 
extraordinary touch can literally transform our ordinary 


Jesus and The Children 

Mark 10:13-16 


Listen to the Children 

Somewhere I heard about a family of three who decided to 
go out for an evening meal. After they had been seated in the 
restaurant and given a chance to look over the menu, their 
waitress came to the table. She politely spoke to each family 
member and pulled out her note pad, ready to take their 
order. ''What would you like for dinner?" she asked the 
five-year-old child. 'Td like a hamburger, french fries, and a 
coke," came the reply. The waitress jotted down the par- 
ents' orders plus their revision of the child's, and when she 
returned with the meal she placed a hamburger, french fries, 
and a coke in front of her. ''Hey, she thinks I'm a real 
person!" the child said, her eyes brightening. She had been 
listened to, and the proof of it was there on the table before 

One thing I enjoy about serving a local church is talking 
with children when they come on Sunday mornings. The 
best place for these conversations is in front of the church 
school building before Sunday School. An early worship 
service prevents my doing this now, but I still drop by the 
children's classes. The conversation isn't quite as free there 
because of the setting and the presence of other children and 
some adults, but I still enjoy it immensely. 

Like public school teachers, I am aware of how open and 
honest children are. "We're not coming to big church be- 
cause we're going to the beach," I have been told by chil- 
dren whose parents blush because they are planning a quick 
getaway. "My dad's gone fishing today, so he won't be 
here," a child once blurted out to me, even though she was 


Listen to the Children — 22 

cautioned by her mother "not to tell everything you know." 
"My mom and sister had a big fight as we drove out of the 
driveway," one child related as we shook hands, "and they 
went in the back door so they wouldn't have to see you." 
"Yesterday was my birthday"; "These are new shoes, but 
my dad hasn't paid for them yet"; "My mother's going to 
have a baby" are some bits of information I've gathered 
from conversations with children. 

Dennis the Menace is one of my favorite cartoon charac- 
ters because of his honesty. He is absolutely straightforward 
with Mr. Wilson, with the minister as he leaves church, and 
with God in his bedtime prayers ("Thank you for a nice 
summer . . and we'll sure 'preciate it if you don't get carried 
away this winter.") 

The frankness of a little book compiled by Marshall and 
Hample and published a few years ago. Children's Letters to 
God, is not exaggerated. It shows how honest children are 
not only when they talk to us, but also when they talk to 
God. One little boy named Frank wrote, "Dear God, I saw 
St. Patrick's Church last week. You sure live in a nice 
house." Barry, interested in church music, put in his letter, 
"Dear God, church is all right, but you could sure use some 
better music. I hope this doesn't hurt your feelings. Could 
you write some new songs?" Bothered about boy-girl rela- 
tions, Sylvia asked God, "Are boys better than girls? I know 
you are one, but try to be fair." And there was Mike, with a 
kind of theological slant: "Dear God, what is it like to die? 
Nobody will tell me. I just want to know. I don't want to do 

We can gain more in listening to children than many of us 
realize. One minister asked some children to evaluate the 
worship service in their church. It was an enlightening ex- 
perience for him as they talked about the music and asked 
questions about the offering. When they reached the ser- 
mon, he asked the children how long they thought the ser- 
mon lasted. Although he normally preached about twenty- 
five minutes, the shortest estimate the children gave was 
three hours! 

One incident most of us remember from the life of Jesus is 


Listen to the Children — 22 

his meeting with the children. We can see this in a panel in 
one of the stained glass windows at Edenton Street United 
Methodist Church that depicts that scene. We used to sing a 
hymn about it: 

''I think when I read that sweet story of old, 

When Jesus was here among men, 

How he called little children as lambs to his fold, 

I should like to have been with him then. 

I wish that his hands had been placed on my head. 

That his arms had been thrown around me. 

And that I might have seen his kind look when he said. 

Let the little ones come unto me." 

None of the three gospel writers who tell this story gives 
us any idea about what was said between Jesus and the 
children. They all concentrated solely on the impatience of 
the disciples who thought Jesus was too busy to bother with 
children. However, each of them records Jesus' reaction: 
''Let the children come. It's in their open, loving, genuine 
spirits that I can see the Kingdom of God. You, too, could be 
a part of that Kingdom if you would become like them." 

Since Jesus affirms that children give us a lot of insight, I 
asked some of them to help me write this sermon by filling 
out a simple questionnaire in church school. 

The kindergarten children were interviewed by their 
teachers since they cannot yet read or write while those in 
grades one through six wrote out their own answers. Each 
teacher explained what it was for — that I wanted to know 
what they were thinking. 

My theme for the questionnaire was the family. These 
were the questions: ^ 

What do you think a family is? 
Who is in your family? 
Why do you think we live in families? 
What would it be like if people did not live in 

What are mothers like? 
What are fathers like? 
What do mothers do? 




Listen to the Children — 22 

8. What do fathers do? 

9. Who is the most important person in your family? 

10. If you could change one thing in your family, what 
would you change? 

11. What does your family do for fun? 

That means this sermon might have eleven points, which 
is unheard of in preaching and might take three hours to 
deliver, so I'll just briefly share what I have heard our 
children saying about the family. 

They were amazingly unanimous in answering the ques- 
tions about what a family is. Their answers were given 
primarily in terms of relationships. One word, 'Move," kept 
appearing in various forms. A family is a group of people 
''who love each other," "who belong together," "who 
work and care for one another," "who share and are to- 
gether, especially on Sundays." Other definitions were 
"people who support you," "a lot of friends to be with," "a 
bunch of happy people," "a loving bunch." A chill went up 
my back when I looked at one paper, and it made me wish 
the children had given their names so that I could share the 
answer with the parents of that child: "A family is when love 
is put together." 

The second question, "Who is in your family?" was an- 
swered with a basic list of mother, daddy, sister, brother. 
Some of the children were very specific, putting names like 
Elizabeth, Thomas, Chris, Lara, Elaine, Bobby. Other lists 
expanded to include grandparents, aunts, uncles, and 
cousins. Even a few cats and dogs were categorized as 
family members. 

With only a few exceptions, all the children gave the 
purpose for having families in terms of need, support, and 
care. We have families, they said, because "you always 
need someone to love you," "someone to lean on," "some- 
one to listen to you," "someone to help when you get sick." 
Two of the children felt that "God made us that way" and 
when we have families "it makes him happy." Again, there 
was one answer that made me realize how deeply children 
do feel: "I think we live in families because everyone needs 
a someone." 


Listen to the Children — 22 

The real surprise in the questionnaire was the response 
the children made to the mere thought of what it would be 
like not to have families. More than any other question this 
one triggered some of the children's emotions. Having read 
their definitions of the family as meaning love, care, and 
protection, it was easy for me to grasp why it was so 
frightening for them to even consider not having a family. 
They answered in brief, emotion-packed words: ''horrible, 
sad, lonely, awful, disaster, yukky." The deep feeling of all 
the children came out in one child's answer: ''Not having a 
family would be like dying." It is interesting, and rather 
reassuring, to know that while our society is saying that we 
need alternatives to the family, our children cannot conceive 
of a world without families. 

Their answers to the questions about parents and their 
functions were very encouraging to me. "My mother cleans 
the house, fixes dinner, and is extra-special." "My mother 
works all the time, but is very interested in me when I get 
home from school." Their answers were also typically hon- 

"Sometimes my mother is mean, but always loving." 
"Mothers are loving people with two sides, bad and good." 
"My mother tries to act like my best friend, which is dumb. " 
"She is sometimes bossy, but also fair." The mothers' 
functions went all the way from "packing lunches" to 
"being there when needed, ' ' from "changing sister' s pants" 
to "being a loving female." Mothers are friendly, helpful, 
nice, fun, gentle, and "cool." 

Fathers are nice, strong, bossy, friendly, helpful, fun, 
kind, gentle, and "loving males." They fix bikes, discipline, 
work for money, keep you out of fights, play games, watch 
television, help with homework, love, and support the fam- 

Children know why fathers work and what mothers do, 
and how important these things are. They are also aware of 
the time their parents give to them and how important it is for 
their development and self-esteem. 

"Everybody is special" in the family, they said, and most 
of them "like the family the way it is." However, some of 
them felt some changes need to be made, and "sisters" got 


Listen to the Children — 22 

top billing on that one. Bigger allowances and new house- 
hold rules also need to be considered, according to their 
answers. How to settle conflicts in the family seemed to be 
an important issue to some children who wrote: 'Td get my 
mother and sister to stop fighting"; "I would change how 
much we argue' ' ; ' ' I would change our attitudes towards one 

Finally, our children really enjoy their families' being 
together whether they are doing yard work, or picnicking, or 
taking a trip, or watching television, or eating. As one child 
put it, ''talking to each other and enjoying each other." 

Children gathered around Jesus, and I believe he listened 
to them. As we have listened, there are some things we 
should have heard. First of all, our children have many 
thoughts and feelings about the family, and we should try to 
find out what they are. Second, the roles of mothers and 
fathers are not as confused in the minds of children as in the 
minds of some of us adults. Third, the traditional idea of the 
family as a man and woman who marry and have children is 
deeply embedded in the thinking of our children. In the 
fourth place, children do look to and do learn from parents, 
and we need to give them the kind of guidance that will equip 
them for life. The best resource and guide we have is Jesus 
Christ, and the best way we can begin is by listening — and 
continuing to listen, with our whole hearts — to our chil- 
dren. We will begin to find our ordinary family life take on an 
extraordinary quality as we listen to the voices of our chil- 
dren and Jesus Christ. 



Mark 10:46-52 


He Comes When We Call 

One Wednesday evening I was settled in for a good lecture 
on 'The Books Between The Testaments." Dr. Lloyd 
Bailey, a member of the Duke Divinity School faculty, had 
just finished an introduction to the fifteen books of the 
Apocrypha and was ready to tell the Wednesday Evening 
Fellowship how the books were developed and about the 
historical setting of each one. At that point someone tapped 
me on the shoulder and whispered in my ear, 'There's a man 
outside in the hall who wants to see you." 

I whispered, ''Did he ask for me specifically?" 

Back came the hushed reply, "Well, no, he just asked to 
see the preacher." 

Regretfully and reluctantly I pulled myself away. In the 
hall I found an unshaven, unkempt, bleary-eyed man who 
was obviously intoxicated. Before I could tell him that this 
was not the month our church worked with transients and he 
would have to go to First Baptist a block away, he started 
muttering that he wanted nothing from me, he only wanted 
to give me something. 

"What do you want to give me?" I asked, a little impa- 

"Two things," he replied. 

"What are they?" (and I wanted to add, "Hurry and hand 
them over so I can get back to the Apocrypha.") 

"I don't want to give them to you. I want to give them to 
God," he answered. 

"Fll take them for God," I offered. "What are they?" 

"I want to give God my bottle and my cigarettes," he 
announced triumphantly. He took from his inner coat 
pocket a half-full wine bottle and from his shirt pocket two 
packs of cigarettes (one almost empty). 

"I want God to take these things because they have made 
me look like Satan." 


He Comes When We Call — 23 

Now that he had gone theological on me, I forgot about the 
Apocrypha as I asked, ''Who told you that?" 

He managed to explain that an old high school buddy, now 
a successful attorney, had given him a five dollar check that 
afternoon. He called the bank to make sure it would be 
cashed and when the teller asked how she would recognize 
the holder, the attorney had answered, ''You'll recognize 
him; he looks like Satan." 

"No one had ever said that about me. I spent the money 
on this booze, but I've been sad ever since. I've been look- 
ing for a preacher all over this downtown area tonight and 
finally found you . So, here are my bottle and my cigarettes. ' ' 

We moved from the hall to the chapel. I told Richard (I had 
learned his name by then) that we would put those two things 
on the altar since they were the things he wanted to give 

"But the best thing you can give him is yourself, 
Richard." I said to him. "These things are symbols of what 
you think is destroying you, but you have allowed what's 
inside you to do that." 

I tried to explain what the communion table meant, but he 
had never heard of Holy Communion. In his forty-nine 
years, he had never been to the Lord's Table. I asked if he 
knew what the cross on the table meant. 

"Yes, Jesus crucified," he answered. Then he continued, 
"I don't look like Satan. I look like Jesus. With my long hair 
and my beard, I look like Jesus. Do you think I look like 

"No," I answered. "You look like a son of God. That 
cross means that God loves you like a son." 

"Do you think he'll take the bottle and the cigarettes?" 

"Yes, and you, too," I replied as I put the bottle and the 
two cigarette packs on the communion table and Richard 
and I knelt before it. 

When he got on his knees, Richard began a private con- 
versation with God, declaring that he looked more like Jesus 
than Satan. He reached over, took my hand, held on to it, 
and then he began to kiss it. I made a stumbling kind of 
prayer as he wept. 


He Comes When We Call — 23 

''Will God take these?" he kept asking. 
''Yes, he will, and you, too," I kept affirming. 
We got up to leave that strange sight — a bottle of wine 
and cigarettes on the communion table in the chapel. 
"Where will you stay tonight, Richard?" I inquired. 
"Under a bush somewhere." 

With two telephone calls I found overnight lodging for 
him. He was to return to the church at noon the next day. As 
we were leaving the church office, he asked, "Do you think 
he'll let me have my cigarettes back?" 

"Who?" I inquired. 

"God," Richard responded. 

"Yes, he'll let you have them back, and your bottle, too." 
"No, he can keep the bottle." 

Back to the chapel we went to retrieve the cigarettes. He 
left the church, headed toward the Salvation Army for 
lodging. I waited for Richard Thursday, but he never re- 

When I began writing down that experience and how I felt 
about it, I began to see a lot of similarities between Richard 
and a Biblical character named Bartimaeus. His picture is in 
the lower panel of a sanctuary window, which shows Jesus 
responding to his call. 

Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem for the last time. It had 
already been an eventful trip. Just as he started out, he had 
healed ten lepers; only one of them had returned to thank 
him. As he was passing through Jericho, he stopped under a 
tree and told the little man perched on one of the limbs that 
he wanted to have dinner with him. We know how that table 
talk made life different for Zacchaeus. It also happened that 
as Jesus was leaving Jericho, a blind man on the side of the 
road called out to him, "Have mercy on me. I need my sight. 
I want to be healed of my blindness." In response Jesus 
released Bartimaeus from his darkness and ushered a glori- 
ous new world of light into his life. 

What are the similarities between the Biblical blind man 
and the man who wanted to give his wine and his weeds to 

First of all, they both felt a need. Bartimaeus was blind 


He Comes When We Call — 23 

and Richard is controlled by something he can't handle, 
blinding him spiritually. 

Of all our physical senses, perhaps we cherish most the 
sense of sight. We sympathize with anyone who is blind. I 
read of a blind man standing on the corner with a cup in his 
hand and a sign around his neck. The sign read: ''It is May 
and I am blind." Can those of us who have sight imagine 
what it would be like not to have seen how the blooming 
dogwoods and azaleas can turn this city into a pageant of 

Bartimaeus sat by a roadside, realizing that his blindness 
was causing him to miss so much of life. For a few moments 
on a Wednesday night, Richard became aware of his blind- 
ness as he zeroed in on two things he thought were causing 

How many of us really feel a need? What, in our pattern of 
living, is causing us to miss what life has to offer? What is 
inside of us that causes everything we touch — friendship, 
marriage, other relationships — to go wrong, turn sour, fall 
apart? There are some kinds of blindness which are more 
devastating than the loss of physical sight. Hatred, greed, 
and selfishness are blinding. Guilt, depression, and fear can 
rob us of our vision. What are our blind spots? Bartimaeus 
and Richard knew. Do we? 

The second thing Richard and Bartimaeus had in common 
was an intense yearning. We can almost imagine some folks 
around Jericho telling Bartimaeus what they had heard or 
seen Jesus do. "He brought Jairus' daughter back to life." 
''He fed five thousand people with a boy's lunch box." "He 
calmed a wild man who lived in the cemetery." "He caused 
the deaf to hear and the blind to see." 

That was the best news Bartimaeus had ever heard. Hope 
began to rise in his heart and his desire to meet Jesus became 
an obsession. He thrilled with a new kind of expectancy, 
convinced that Jesus could help him. He had realized his 
need, and now he yearned for Christ to answer his need. 

Wednesday night Richard yearned to have his need met. 
So where did he go? Did he turn first to Hillsborough Street, 
or the Greyhound Bus Station, or a Five Points beer joint, or 


He Comes When We Call— 23 

the Carolina Country Club? When Richard really faced up to 
things, he headed for a church and a preacher. We don't 
know why. It could have been some memory from childhood 
days, or hearing of a crucified Jesus on a cross, or a faint 
knowledge that the church always cares that brought him 

Where do we go when we're in need? How many fads do 
we try? We may need a better marriage, or a restored re- 
lationship, or a new set of priorities. How many of us feel 
that Christ can meet our needs and take them to him? Are we 
as convinced as Bartimaeus and Richard were that Christ is 
the answer for us? 

Richard sought out Christ. So did Bartimaeus. Sitting by 
the roadside one day he heard someone in a passing crowd 
call out the name of Jesus. When he heard that name his 
heart began to pound, and there flashed through his mind the 
realization that here was the answer to his blindness. 

"Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me," Bartimaeus 
called. That's the third thing he did: he called out for help. 
He felt his need, he yearned to have it met, and he called out 
for help. 

No greater moment comes to any one of us than when 
recognizing our need and our faith in Christ's power to meet 
it, we begin asking for his help. Asking for his help doesn't 
mean we have to be gross sinners who crawl to a savior. It 
means to ask for help whenever we venture out in life every 
day. A couple to be married wants their home to be "a haven 
of blessing and a place of peace." If they believe Christ can 
help meet that need (as I am convinced he can and attempt to 
convince each couple I marry), all they have to do is ask for 
his help. We who are parents want to be the best mothers 
and fathers possible. If we are convinced that Christ can 
help us and ask for his help, it is ours. 

All of our prayers of petition are ways of acknowledging 
our need to have the right values, the right attitude, the right 
feelings. If we are convinced that Christ can help meet those 
needs and ask for his help, then we will be amazed at what 
happens when our prayers are answered. 

Bartimaeus called and Jesus stopped to help. Richard 


He Comes When We Call — 23 

asked and he found the symbol of God's presence, the 

When Jesus responded, Bartimaeus got up, threw off his 
old coat, and went straight to the source of new sight. The 
coat probably hindered him from moving as quickly as he 
wanted to, so Bartimaeus threw it aside. Wednesday night 
Richard felt that two things stood between him and his right 
relationship to God. Evidently they are because he was so 
convinced that getting rid of the bottle and cigarettes was the 
way to get his life straightened out. 

This fourth thing is difficult for us. We know we have 
needs, and that they can be met. We may ask for help, but we 
can't quite let go of our attitudes, fears, habits, feelings. 
There are disciplines, decisions, and changes that we are not 
quite willing to embrace . Bartimaeus did not hesitate to drop 
his coat. Richard succeeded in dropping the bottle, or at 
least that bottle, but he picked up the cigarettes before 
leaving. How many of us hold on to something that hinders 

The story of Bartimaeus ends with these words: ''And 
immediately he received his sight, and followed Jesus." The 
story of Richard goes on. He did not come back as he had 
promised. I do know that if he ever comes back and offers 
the cigarettes and the bottle, he will find that they will be 
accepted again and placed on the altar again. I also know 
that Christ will be waiting for him to call out, for he will 
respond when and as often as Richard calls. 

Every time we call, he comes. That's the grace of God and 
it is unlike any other thing we can experience on the face of 
this earth, meeting our needs and enabling us to accept help, 
replacing whatever ordinarily blinds us with extraordinary 


The Good Samaritan 

Luke 10:25-37 


I Wonder Why He Didn't 
Leave His Name 

''Let me tell you the amazing thing that happened to our 
son," she began the story. A few of us were having dinner 
together, and eager to hear what she had to tell, we urged her 
to continue. 

Her son and his girl friend had been to Burlington one 
evening for a party and were on their way back to Raleigh at 
one o'clock in the morning. All of a sudden, on Interstate 
Highway 85, the motor cut off and died. Coasting to the 
shoulder, the young man tried to restart the car but couldn't. 
He checked under the hood and apparently everything visi- 
ble was in place. He left the hood up and stood outside, 
hoping that some motorist with mechanical knowledge 
would stop to lend him a helping hand. 

One car passed. It was driven by a man who was appar- 
ently in his early thirties. As he went by, he caught a glimpse 
of the stalled car and the two young people. He went to the 
next turnoff, circled and came back. 

He said, "I know nothing about motors, but let me take 
you to the turn-off ahead where I noticed that a service 
station is still open." So he delivered the two and waited 
while the attendant went out to check their automobile. 
Nothing could be done until a mechanic came on duty the 
next morning. 

''Where are you headed?" the stranger asked. 

"We were on our way to Raleigh." 

"I'm headed toward Durham, but hop in and let me get 
you two home. I can't leave you stranded out here for the 
rest of the night." 

On the way to Raleigh the stranger's conversation re- 
vealed that he was a salesman, lived in Charlotte, had two 
small children, liked to play golf, had been to High Point and 
was spending the night in Durham to meet some morning 
business appointments. He brought the two here to Raleigh, 


/ Wonder Why He Didnt Leave His Name — 24 

waited to see that they got into their homes, and after being 
properly thanked, drove away. 

As the son related the story to his parents, his mother 
asked, "What was his name?" "Why, he never told me!" 
came an astonished reply. 

I wonder why he didn't leave his name. 

In this series of sermons on the lower panels of the 
sanctuary windows, we are looking at some incidents from 
the life and ministry of Jesus. With the exception of one, all 
those panels have the figure of Jesus in them. Instead of 
depicting an incident from his life, this one shows the main 
characters in a story he told — a story recorded in the tenth 
chapter of Luke's Gospel. 

We know the story well. Jesus told it because all during his 
lifetime, he was continually meeting people who were trying 
to justify themselves, to cover up some of their failures. 
These were the people who were trying to convince them- 
selves that they were righteous, that they were acceptable to 
God because they could recite all the good they had done. 

One man in particular, an attorney who was an expert on 
the laws of Moses, decided to see how orthodox Jesus' 
theology was. "Tell me, Jesus," he said, "what does a man 
need to do to assure himself of an eternal place with God?" 

Jesus was a wise counselor who knew how to respond to 
that question — not with an answer, but with another ques- 
tion. So he put it back in the lawyer's lap. "You, sir, are well 
steeped in the laws of Moses. What does that law say a man 
must do in order to live forever?" 

The lawyer replied immediately. "Love the Lord your 
God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your 
strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as 

"That's right!" Jesus told him. "Do that and you shall 
have eternal life." 

The lawyer had done a lot of good. He was considered an 
outstanding churchman. However, he knew that there were 
certain kinds of people he did not love as much as he loved 
himself. He felt that he was justified in his feelings because 
such people did not deserve his love, or merit the kind of 
love that was extended to him by others. So, like a lot of 


/ Wonder Why He Didnt Leave His Name — 24 

other folks who tried to justify their feeHngs and gloss over 
some flaws in their attitudes, the lawyer elaborated: 

''Now, Jesus," he continued, ''you and I both know — 
what the law says. But which neighbors did Moses mean? 
There are some, as I'm sure you are aware, who do not 
deserve to be loved." 

That's when Jesus told that familiar story of the good 
Samaritan. I wonder how many sermons we have heard 
preached on that parable. I did an inventory, wondering just 
how many times I had used it. To my surprise, I discovered 
that in twenty-five years of preaching, I have never used the 
parable as the basis of a sermon. I've made numerous refer- 
ences to it in other sermons, but it has not been my primary 
scripture. In analyzing why, I think perhaps it is because the 
lesson is so obvious. An editorial in this morning's (March 
18, 1979) News and Observer brought the interpretation 
up-to-date in its comment about a number of indifferent 
motorists who passed a seventy-five-year-old woman dying 
of a heart attack on a Tennessee highway. 

There is something about this parable that intrigues me. 
Obviously this was not the first time the Samaritan had 
helped someone. Yet he did this good deed, as he perhaps 
did others, anonymously. When Jesus told the story, he did 
not bother to give the man a name. Have you ever wondered 
who the Samaritan was? I have. This man used his time, his 
wealth, his managerial ability to help a neighbor. Wasn't his 
name important enough to include? 

Maybe Jesus didn't give it because he wanted to show his 
listeners that that man stopped for only one purpose, to help 
a neighbor in need. He did not stop so that someone would 
call him a hero, to get his name in the paper, to enhance his 
profession, to make more sales, or to be stroked and patted. 
Maybe Jesus is trying to show us that if we shout from the 
housetop the good we do, or expect recognition, or pout if 
we are not stroked, or threaten to quit if we are not ap- 
preciated, then the good we do is not enough. Our kindness 
and generosity are only genuinely Christian when they go 
hand-in-hand with gentleness, humility, and selflessness. 


/ Wonder Why He Didn't Leave His Name — 24 

Somewhere Jesus said something about not even letting one 
hand know what the other hand is doing. 

Let's give this man in Scripture a name. Let's call him 
John Samaritan and put him in our world. Can't you envision 
the historical marker on the road between Jerusalem and 
Jericho? ''On this spot in the year 31 A.D. John Samaritan 
performed his famous deed of compassion toward a 
wounded man." Certainly the hotel where John lodged the 
wounded stranger would be renamed The John Samaritan 
Inn by now. It's easy to imagine a huge sign standing on a 
vacant lot next to a hospital announcing the future site of the 
John Samaritan Home for Beaten Travelers, being built by 
the million dollar donation of Mr. John Q. Samaritan. Of 
course, there would be a John Samaritan commemorative 
medal and bumper stickers urging us to ''Come and hear 
John Samaritan, the chaplain of Jericho Street." After- 
wards, the audience would be able to purchase the latest 
book which told once again the true story of how John 
Samaritan personally saved a victim of highway robbery. 
The book's title, of course, would be My Deed of Kindness. 
Perhaps a beautifully-engraved invitation would come in the 
mail one day: "You are cordially invited to attend the an- 
niversary of John Q. Samaritan, friend of beaten travelers." 
John's name would be followed by a list of honorary de- 
grees. The reception would be held at the John Samaritan 
Inn in the Willie Leper Room, named for the one who came 
back and thanked Jesus. 

That sounds frivolous, but it is a way of pointing out one 
reason the Samaritan did not leave his name. Those people 
who deserve monuments do not need them. We still re- 
member this man from Samaria without any of the 
paraphernalia that our world resorts to. People who perform 
deeds of mercy and acts of kindness without leaving their 
names keep the faith alive. 

In an Upper Room (March 16, 1979) devotional, 
J. Ellsworth Kalas of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, reminded 
himself and us of how we stand on the foundations of the 
efforts of unnamed people. When he asked how old a church 


/ Wonder Why He Didnt Leave His Name — 24 

building was, he was given an answer that made him realize 
this. 'This building," he was told, "is about 250 years old. It 
was built on the foundation of the previous building, which 
in turn was built on the foundation of an earlier building. All 
in all, I estimate it goes back at least 900 years." 

There is a plant called the fire weed. Its technical name is 
Rosebay Willow herb. The plant grows in the most unlikely 
places you can think of. It can usually be spotted in the ruins 
of a burned building or along the walls of a neglected house. 
Its flowers are a contrast to the debris around it. During the 
Second World War, the fire weed became a symbol of re- 
newed life in England because it could be seen growing 
among the rubble that resulted from the bombings. The fire 
weed is sort of a symbolic expression of a Christian who is 
always there to help, using time and money and ability amid 
the suffering of the world, although that Christian's name is 
not remembered or even left. 

A minister in New York City writes of a very touching 
incident he saw while on a subway one evening. It was cold 
in the city, the temperature way below zero. At one of the 
stops, a woman boarded the subway. She was a real mess, 
ragged and dirty and obviously drunk. She sat down and 
immediately fell asleep, or passed out. What impressed him 
most were her gloves, or what had at one time been gloves. 
Quite literally, he says, there were more holes than material. 
Her hands were not frostbritten, but the exposed knuckles 
were so red that they had to be painful. The minister reports 
that he sat there looking at the wretched woman, wondering 
how often she spent a whole night sleeping on a subway and 
if there was any hope for her. The train stopped and a 
number of passengers rose to leave. Among them was a 
teenager who apparently had also been studying the woman. 
As he moved toward the door of the subway, he slipped off 
his own gloves, and as he passed her, he dropped them on 
her lap. He neither stopped nor left his name as he went out 
the door. 

We have just been through another basketball season in 
which we hoped that one of our teams might emerge the 
victor again. A few seasons back, UCLA won the cham- 
pionship. Someone asked the coach of that team to explain 


/ Wonder Why He Didnt Leave His Name — 24 

their phenomenal record of eight championships in nine 
years. "It is amazing," he replied, "how much can be ac- 
complished if no one cares who gets the credit." 

I have often wondered, and have even been asked, why 
the church doesn't receive large bequests and endowments 
like a university. The obvious answer is that other institu- 
tions offer the donor more recognition. The church assumes 
that gifts are made with the kind of spirit that doesn't need to 
leave its name. It's astonishing how much can be done when 
we focus on what needs to be done instead of the need to be 
appreciated. A church can accomplish the miraculous if 
none of its members care who gets the credit. I wonder why 
the Samaritan didn't leave his name. But does it really 

I heard the story of a whimsical dream; the setting was the 
pearly gates. A blustering businessman arrived and briskly 
made his way to an admissions desk. St. Peter asked him 
what role he would like to play in heaven. The question 
took the man by surprise because he had assumed heaven 
would be a place of rewards, not a place to be assigned roles. 
Although he was a church member, he had not given any 
thought to the nature of the afterlife nor had he prepared for 
it. There flashed into his mind the words of the only hymn he 
knew, one he had learned years before in Sunday School. 
His answer was one line from that: "I want to be an angel 
and with the angels stand." St. Peter, very much like a 
personnel officer, took out pen and paper and said, "Let's 
see now, what experience have you had?" 

We can read and talk about the unnamed man in that 
window, but it has meaning for us only when we superim- 
pose our picture on his and gain some experience in doing 
good in a gentle, humble, self-forgetting way. Then our 
ordinary yearning for recognition and appreciation will turn 
into an extraordinary sense of doing God's will in God's way 
— and we'll have the greatest reward of all: true happiness, 

I believe I know why he didn't leave his name. 


The Upper Room 

Matthew 26:26-29 


Will We Claim 
Our Inheritance? 

The other evening at dinner I heard an old joke. It was 
about four preachers who played a round of golf together 
every Monday morning. One day as they started out, they 
decided that each would make an open confession of his 
major sin to the others. The Methodist minister was the first 
player to tee off. Just before he addressed the ball, he told his 
three colleagues that he secretly smoked cigars. After the 
evening meal, he would sneak into the basement of the 
parsonage and have a good smoke. The Baptist preacher 
confessed that dancing was his one besetting sin. He would 
close the drapes of his house at night, load the stereo with 
records, and dance with his wife for hours. The Presbyterian 
clergyman was a bit hesitant to admit his sin, but he finally 
told the others that he craved an alcoholic drink every after- 
noon before dinner. The Congregational minister readily 
acknowledged his weakness for gossip, adding that he could 
hardly wait to get the rumors started about the smoking 
Methodist, the dancing Baptist, and the drinking Presbyte- 

Sometimes I feel as though I'm gossiping when I read the 
back page of The Raleigh Times. Everything printed there is 
public record, but I often feel as if I am prying into other 
people's private business when I read about deed transfers, 
building permits for minor repairs, divorces filed, divorces 
granted, marriage licenses issued, and drivers' licenses sus- 
pended. When I read about wills that have been filed with 
the Wake County Register of Deeds, giving the value of a 
person's estate and listing the beneficiaries, I almost blush. 
My besetting sin must be like that of the Congregational 


Will We Claim Our Inheritance? — 25 

preacher in the joke, for I turn to that private business 
almost immediately and read the whole works. If any wills 
are listed, I read them first. 

Have you ever read a last will and testament? Most adults 
have had an attorney prepare one for them. We should all 
know what happens to our estates if we die without leaving a 
will. Any of us who are connected with any kind of institu- 
tion are constantly reminded of tax benefits that can accrue 
to our estate if a non-profit institufion is included among the 
beneficiaries. Duke University, now in the midst of its an- 
nual alumni-giving effort, has a new item on this year's 
pledge card: Have you included Duke in your will? Most of 
us know what a will is. 

Did you realize that Jesus made a last will and testament? 
He didn't have a lawyer write it for him and have three 
people witness its legality as we must now. One of his 
disciples wrote it down. At least, John put down what he 
could remember when he wrote his gospel some sixty years 
after Jesus had died. 

Jesus gave his will to the disciples on a Thursday evening, 
the night before his execution. He gathered his twelve fol- 
lowers in an upper room in Jerusalem and did three things. 
He took a towel and a basin of water and washed their feet. 
He also took bread and wine and told them that such every- 
day elements could be symbolic of his presence. The third 
thing Jesus did was to give his last will and testament. John 
thought this was so important that he took one-fourth of his 
gospel, five out of twenty-one chapters, to record it for us. If 
we were to take it off the pages of the Bible and transcribe it 
on a legal document, we would easily recognize it as the last 
will and testament of Jesus Christ. 

In one of the sanctuary windows in Edenton Street United 
Methodist Church we can see thirteen men seated around a 
table. The scripture on that panel refers to the last supper. 
We obviously remember that meal when we look at the 
window. But I think it would be well for us to recall that we 
became heirs that night, beneficiaries of the last will and 
testament of Jesus Christ. 

My own will has seven sections, or seven articles. The 


Will We Claim Our Inheritance? — 25 

first two state that all debts, including funeral expenses, cost 
of administration, estate and inheritance taxes, are to be 
paid from my assets. Articles three and four read that 
everything I own is to go to certain people. The names of 
those who are to have my clothing, household goods, auto- 
mobiles, property, library, writings, and money are listed. 
The fifth section appoints a guardian of my minor children 
and of properties if my wife does not survive me. The last 
two articles name the administrator of my estate, and give 
some circumstances under which that might be changed. 

It is not necessary for us to go back in time and imagine 
ourselves listening to Jesus give his last will and testament. 
It is not necessary because the will is still being probated. 
Heirs are still learning of their inheritance and beneficiaries 
are still receiving gifts from his estate. Every day on the back 
of The Raleigh Times the will of Jesus could be listed as a 
current one, for it is continually being filed and probated. I'd 
like to pretend that I am a lawyer reading that will. It would 
take too long to read the entire document, so I will condense 
it into three articles. In doing so, I would suggest that each of 
us might occasionally pull out the original document and 
read it in its entirety. (John 13-17). 

Article I of the Last Will and Testament of Jesus Christ 
might read like this: ''You must not be distressed, for 
everything is taken care of. There are many rooms in my 
Father's house and I have a place ready. You will be wel- 
comed there." 

Most wills have a section that states clearly that any 
expense, or debts, or taxes, or administrative costs con- 
nected with a person's estate are to be paid out of the assets 
of that estate. The first article in the will of Christ is an 
assurance that things are taken care of. It states, in essence, 
that we are not to worry about what's to happen after death. 
'T have taken care of it," Jesus says, ''and I can assure you 
for yourself or anyone you love that preparations have been 

I read of a minister who was dying. His family had been 
called home, and they were all gathered around his bedside. 
He looked up from his bed and said to those grieving, "You 
mustn't be sad. All my life I've preached to people about 


Will We Claim Our Inheritance? — 25 

the joys of heaven. Now I am going to discover them for 
myself." With his marvelous sense of humor, he added, 
''And when I get there, I will send you my address." 

That man caught the spirit of Jesus as he claimed his 
inheritance. He did not have to know every detail of the 
place. He had an assurance in the will of Christ that the place 
is prepared. That's the essence of the first article. Every- 
thing is taken care of. 

The second article of this last will and testament is a bit 
long, but it states basically: 'T leave you my peace, my 
friendship, my joy." 

There is a true story about a man whose relatives were 
assembled after his death to hear his will read. He had not 
been a wealthy person, so the relatives all thought it strange 
that they should be summoned to hear the will since he 
obviously had nothing of material value to leave them. They 
soon learned why they were there as the solicitor read parts 
of the will. "To my brother Alex I leave my sense of humor 
inasmuch as he has never cracked a smile in his life. To my 
cousin Sarah I leave my optimism, to mitigate her habitual 
gloomy and pessimistic view of everything. To my nephew 
Richard I leave my standard of values, in the hope that it 
may help him to learn that a man's life does not consist of the 
abundance of his possessions." On it went, this legacy of 
spiritual qualities he left to his relatives. None of them were 
negotiable in terms of tangible assets, but all of them were of 
surpassing worth in terms of abundant living. 

Jesus had nothing of material value to leave his disciples, 
except the clothing on his back, and that was soon to become 
the property of the soldiers who executed him. Yet in those 
closing hours of his earthly life, he dictated a last will and 
testament that tells of the richest legacy ever bequeathed to 
one human being from another. 

My personal will reads: 'T bequeath all clothing, all 
household goods, all personal property, all real property." 
The will of Christ reads: "Peace I leave w th you. My peace I 
give unto you." 

The peace of Christ is a sense of inner harmony and a 
sense of well-being that are quite independent of outward 


Will We Claim Our Inheritance? — 25 

circumstances. It is not a peace that means the absence of 
conflict, or distress, or trouble, or hardship, but a peace that 
keeps us steady in the face of any adversity. St. Paul says it 
is beyond ''all understanding." 

Christ also bequeaths us his friendship. ''You are my 
friends and I call and choose you as my friends. Greater love 
has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his 

In willing us his friendship, Christ assured us that he will 
stand by us no matter how unworthy we think we are, no 
matter who else forsakes us. This inheritance is a friend who 
loves, encourages, and strengthens us, and brings out in us 
our best qualities. 

"My joy will be in you and your joy will be complete" is 
another glorious facet of this inheritance. Christ leaves that 
same radiant spirit, that same delightful merriment that 
characterized his life. Joy was part of his life because he 
trusted God and obeyed the Father's commandments. Joy is 
a part of a Christian's emotional equipment, not because it is 
cultivated but because Christ gives it to us. If we fail to be 
joyful, we are like persons who live in poverty because they 
refuse to claim their rightful inheritance. 

The first article of the last will and testament of Jesus 
Christ assures us that everything is taken care of, and the 
second leaves us his peace, friendship, and joy. Article III 
reads, "You will have someone to stand by you, to be with 
you always: The Holy Spirit." 

My will states that "If my wife shall not survive me, I 
appoint so and so to be guardian of the persons and 
properties of my minor children." That article was included 
so that someone will be responsible for our children if we 
both die at the same time. 

The disciples who gathered in that upper room to hear the 
will of Christ were concerned about how they would be 
guided, in what direction they should go, and who would 
take care of them after his death. So he reassured them. 
"When the spirit comes, he will guide you. The Divine 
Helper will show you the way. The spirit will standby you." 
In fact, five times in this last will and testament Jesus reiter- 
ates the promise of that Spirit. The Bible records the gift of 


Will We Claim Our Inheritance? — 25 

the Spirit and how it guided, directed, and aided those early 
disciples. It is still our inheritance, the supreme legacy that 
Jesus bequeathed to his church and to us. 

"What is the wind?" a little boy asked his grandfather. ''I 
don't know," answered the old man, ''but I know how to 
hoist a sail and catch the wind." What is the spirit? ''I don't 
know," says the believer, ''but I know how to hoist the sail 
of my soul and catch the wind of God's Spirit." 

I'd like to rent some space on the back of The Raleigh 
Times and put there, under "wills": "Jesus Christ, who died 
in 33 A.D., left an estate of unbelievable value: an assurance 
that everything is taken care of, his peace and friendship and 
joy, and God's Holy Spirit. The beneficiaries are all those 
who will accept their inheritance." 

The legacies of Jesus Christ are ours, but like all bene- 
ficiaries, we must lay claim to them. If we do so, our ordi- 
nary anxieties, loneliness, and stumbling will become ex- 
traordinary security, companionship, and surety. 



Matthew 26:26-46 


Has Your Heart Ever 
Been Broken? 

There is a Greek legend called the Myth of Sisyphus. It is 
the story of a man being punished by two of the ancient gods, 
Pluto and Mercury. His lifelong punishment was to push a 
huge rock up a mountain and then, just as he reached the top, 
have to watch the rock slip by him and go crashing down into 
the valley. Sisyphus then had to start all over again, pushing 
the rock up and watching it go back down. He was con- 
demned to do that until he died. 

At times, for all of us, life seems to be that way. We give 
life all that we have, and just as we begin to think maybe it's 
enough, we realize that we have failed again. We carefully 
hoist the sails of our hopes, looking around to see if every- 
thing is safe, and then from our blind side something or 
someone slips up to knock the wind out of our sails. We 
struggle to overcome our feelings of inadequacy or inferior- 
ity, and our gradual progress is abruptly interrupted by 
someone who puts us down. We work hard to help others 
overcome their deficiencies, and about the time we feel good 
about their improvement, everything we thought was 
''nailed down'' comes loose. 

Keeping heart in this kind of world, which is the only one 
we have, can be a tremendous undertaking. Our Lord knew 
that when he lived here. In the lower panels of the sanctuary 
windows of Edenton Street United Methodist Church, we 
see in stained glass what he went through. Each represents 
one of his attempts to ''push the rock to the top of the 
mountain," and show us what life can be even in our world. 

Jesus' life story, like ours, began in an ordinary way with 
the birth of a child. His coming into the world like we come 
was God' s way of saying, "Don' t wait for the supernatural or 


Has Your Heart Ever Been Broken? — 26 

the otherworldly, but watch for me in the ordinary, in the 
everyday, for that's how I come to you." The events of that 
child's life show the humanness of God's continuing revela- 
tion to us. He was nurtured in a family where religion and 
faith were a normal part of life. As a young man, choosing to 
carry out the mission God had given him, he selected ordi- 
nary people to help him, twelve men who in spite of their 
diversity in personality, were unified in their loyalty to him. 

At the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus discarded any 
thought of proclaiming the faith by impressing people with 
magic. He would not turn stones into bread, or leap from the 
temple, or rule over earthly kingdoms in order to show his 
lordship. He would carry out his Father's ministry by 
showing the people of his day what God can do with the 
ordinary. Remember the boy's lunch box on a hillside? With 
a simple everyday lunch box he demonstrated what can 
happen when we let go of selfishness and self-centeredness, 
making ordinary things seem extraordinary. When we think 
of his patience, we are awed by his almost supernatural 
patience with us. We think of how we try everything under 
the sun to heal our brokenness before we turn to touch his 
garment, which is always available. He counseled us to let 
the childlike virtues of trust and honesty be the hallmarks of 
our relationships and assured us that he would come when 
we call, but would never force himself upon us. Since we are 
surrounded by unlimited opportunities to show love and 
neighborliness and concern, he told us, with a simple story 
about a Samaritan, how to go about our ministry; gently, 
humbly, self-forgetting. He even read his last will and testa- 
ment to show that an inheritance of peace, friendship, and 
joy would be ours, as well as that steadfast spiritual presence 
guiding and directing us all the days of our lives. 

Now, after all this — after those thirty-three years of 
human life in which God was so intensely present — it 
became obvious to him that his revelation was being re- 
jected. The rock had been pushed to the top of the mountain, 
but it was beginning to slip, soon to crash. The sails of his 
hope had all been hoisted, but the wind was being knocked 
out of them. 

Has your heart ever been broken? Have you ever felt 


Has Your Heart Ever Been Broken? — 26 

totally defeated when something didn't work out? I believe 
Jesus felt that brokenness, that defeat, when he realized that 
the rock was falling back and the sails deflating. As he knelt 
in the Garden of Gethsemane, he was crushed because his 
revelation of his Father was not accepted. 

Jesus and his disciples left the upper room after having 
supper. They went out to an orchard of olive trees, which we 
know as the Garden of Gethsemane. At the entrance, he 
instructed eight of the disciples to wait while he and the 
other three went further into the grove. He told Peter, 
James, and John that the sorrow in his heart was so great it 
almost devastated him. He then went a few yards away from 
them and fell to the ground. 

The gospel writers don't often try to describe the emo- 
tions of Jesus. Briefly they tell us that he wept when his 
friend Lazarus died and that he stood outside Jerusalem and 
cried because that city could not see the real way to peace. 
But in Gethsemane they let us see how emotional he was, 
how overcome he was by distress and anguish. He threw 
himself to the ground, his fingers clawed the dirt, and he 
cried, ''Why? O God, is there any other way? What more 
can I do to help people see? How can I help them under- 
stand?" His agony was not caused by the prospect of dying. 
He knew how to handle death. The prospect of physical pain 
did not do him in. He cried out because, by all human 
standards, his mission seemed a failure. His heart was bro- 
ken because God's revelation was being rejected. On his 
hands and knees he prayed, ''Do I have to drink this cup of 
bitterness? Is it possible for it to pass away? Is it possible, O 
Father, for you to take away their freedom of choice and 
make them accept? Can you remove this loneliness, my 

The Gethsemane window reminds us that Jesus had to 
drink the offered cup. He had to watch then, as he does now, 
his words and works dissolve in failure. His prayer then and 
today is, "O God, can the cup of rejection pass from me? Do 
I have to see people turn aside? Do I have to watch those to 
whom I offer friendship refuse me?" Jesus had to watch 
what evil can do to goodness. He had to witness how the 
finest efforts in life can be betrayed. He had to know how 


Has Your Heart Ever Been Broken? — 26 

hopes can be cut short. Jesus had pushed the rocks of 
selflessness and humility and meekness to the top of the 
mountain, and now they were slipping by him, rolling back 
down. Self-righteousness and pride and power were tram- 
pling down simple faith and sincere devotion. And Jesus was 
asking in the garden if there was some other cup he might 
drink. He was almost asking if there was a way in which God 
could command the people of the earth to accept what he 
had to offer: the way to real happiness. 

We were granted freedom at creation — freedom to 
choose or to reject God as symbolized in the Genesis story. 
That picture of Christ in Gethsemane shows the agony that 
God himself suffers when we choose not to accept. We can 
reject the values of faith, the miracles of sharing, and even 
an inheritance of peace and friendship. Christ will accept our 
rejection, that cup that we offer, even though it breaks his 
heart and causes him grief. 

I still have difficulty with a theology that says God de- 
manded the death of his son on a cross. I have difficulty with 
it because it leaves me with none of the responsibility. The 
same attitudes that nailed him to a cross in 33 A.D. are still 
being hammered away at today. The window which shows 
him kneeling in a garden, agonizing over the cup being 
offered to him, reminds me that he is still there. He is still in 
distress and is continuing to accept whatever cup we offer. 

We all need to remember that Jesus drinks a little and dies 
a little whenever you and I reject him in anything we think or 
say. Whenever we hold on to our selfishness and look in 
every direction but his, he drinks a Httle and dies a little. 
Exalting our name above his and refusing to accept our 
inheritance makes the bitterness of the cup still poignant. He 
drinks and dies when we proclaim him in a service of wor- 
ship today, but ask that we not be bothered tomorrow 
morning when we are back at the business of making our 
way in the world. He drinks a little and dies a little when any 
of us whom he loves so dearly rejects him. 

And yet, in those same simple, ordinary ways, God keeps 
trying, keeps offering himself and his way to us. That's 
extraordinary love! 



John 19:17-18 


Not Really ... No One Could 
Love Me That Much! 

''I want you to save my marriage," he said as he came into 
the study. His minister explained that there was nothing he 
would rather do than to save the marriage, but he did not 
have that kind of power. He assured the man who made the 
request that he would help him look at some possible ways of 
salvaging what was left. 

The rejected husband was desperate for he was about to 
lose a mate he had abused, verbally if not physically. By his 
own admission, he had taken his wife for granted. Now he 
was willing to pay any price to get her back. He declared that 
he would subject himself to marriage counseling, participate 
in group therapy, attend enrichment seminars, and even go 
to church with her. He would crawl on his hands and knees 
to her if she would take him back. 

The minister promised to talk with his wife. When he did, 
there was no doubt in his mind that she was not interested in 
restructuring the relationship. She wanted out of the mar- 
riage. Her intention was clear when she said, ''My love for 
him was the most real thing I have ever known. But that love 
died seven years ago, and I am not willing to live with a 
ghost." She showed no emotion, no tendency to break 
down, no tears when she made that statement. 

"You seem so sure of yourself and what you want," the 
minister said. 

'Tve had seven years to think it through," she answered. 

''Could you tell me what makes you so certain that your 
love has died?" he asked. "What feelings do you have to 
reinforce that conclusion?" 

She didn't hesitate in giving her answer. "I can best 


Not Really . . . No One Could Love Me That Much!— 27 

describe it this way. I have been hurt many times by him and 
overlooked a lot of those hurts. I tried to let time blot out the 
others as much as possible. This v^ent on for ten years. 
Occasionally, he would apologize for an insulting remark or 
some insinuation he had made. That would always make me 
hope that things were going to change, and I'd try again. 
Something happened seven years ago. Our youngest child 
was born, and he never came to see me while I was in the 
hospital. One day he came by the nursery to get a glimpse of 
our child, but he was in too big a hurry to come by my room. 
That was enough to crush any wife, but I realized that his not 
coming did not hurt. That's what scared me, for then I knew 
that our marriage was over." 

Her simple, straightforward words, ''his not coming did 
not hurt," tells a whole lot about loving and being loved. 
When hurtful actions no longer have the ability to hurt, love 
has died. 

There is a window in Edenton Street United Methodist 
Church that shows us something about love and how deep it 
can be. When we look at it, we can almost miss its meaning 
because it is difficult to understand. We can miss it because 
somehow it isn't quite real to us. 

It is the picture of an execution, but it doesn't seem as real 
to us as the execution of Gary Gilmore in Utah two years 
ago. He stood before a firing squad because he was con- 
victed of murder. We read about it and it was real. When 
John Spenkelink's head was covered with a black hood and 
pellets of gas were dropped beneath his chair at a peniten- 
tiary in Florida, it was a real execution. The papers recently 
carried the news that the prime minister and six other men 
were executed in Iran after the Shah's exile. Decisions by 
the Supreme Court and state governments on capital 
punishment are real decisions and the media keep us aware 
of them. We have no doubt that they are real. 

The crucifixion of Jesus isn't quite that real to us. It is kept 
before us for we continually talk about it and sing about it in 
church. We have a tendency, however, to dismiss as not 
quite real some of the things we talk and sing about in 
church. We put these remembered events in the super- 
natural category, thinking of them as other-worldly or as 


Not Really . . . No One Could Love Me That Much!— 27 

fantasy. Even as we look at the sanctuary windows, we have 
the feehng that all the Old and New Testament characters 
are not real, or at least not of the same flesh and blood as we 
are. Even the events about Jesus, from his birth to his trial, 
seem to be some fantastic fairy tale. If we feel that Jesus' call 
to follow, his tender way with children, his legacy in the 
upper room, and his cry in the garden are only inventions of 
a story teller, then his execution on a cross cannot be more 
than an illusion. 
But it's real! 

It happened on a Friday morning. A procession of people 
made their way along a side street in Jerusalem. They moved 
outside the city walls to a hill shaped like a human skull. It 
was called Golgotha because it was the gas chamber, the 
gallows, the electric chair of that day. 

It was only nine o'clock. The doves were circling over- 
head, and the birds were singing in olive trees in the sur- 
rounding orchards. Jesus, who had been through four trials 
during the night, was one of three persons condemned to a 
criminal's death on a cross. 

A hole was dug in the ground for the cross. His thirty- 
three-year-old body was laid out on the main beam, and his 
arms were stretched along the crosspiece. A nail was ham- 
mered into the palm of one hand and then a second nail 
through the other. The soles of his feet were made flat 
against the main beam, and a larger nail was driven through 
both. The cross was then lifted up and dropped into the earth 
with such a jolt that the nails tore the muscles in his hands. 
He hung there until he was pronounced dead. 

It really happened. I wish I could tell you it didn't! Two 
other men were executed on either side of him, so it was not 
unusual, or out of the ordinary, or supernatural. It was as 
real as the squad firing at Gary Gilmore. It was as real as the 
Florida gas chamber in which John Spenkelink died. It was 
as real as what happened in Iran. But it is almost unreal in 
what it says to us. 

It speaks to me of a love that will go to any length, suffer 
any rejection, endure any hurt, face any pain to assure me of 
its reality. It is difficult for me to understand how any love 
could be that great, how any one could love me that much. I 


Not Really . . . No One Could Love Me That Much! — 27 

can identify with that wife who, after so many years of 
rejection and abuse and hurt, would reach the point where it 
simply did not matter any more, but I can hardly grasp a God 
who can never get beyond caring that I reject and ignore 
him, and attempt to live without him. 

The crucifixion is a constant reminder that the love of God 
is alive. It's alive because what we do and say and feel can 
always hurt it, hurt it with as much intensity as Jesus experi- 
enced on Golgotha. 

We can get a taste of such hurt in our human relationships. 
In an Alabama prison, John Louis Evans, III , is waiting to be 
taken to the electric chair where he will be put to death 
because the court found him guilty of murder and decreed 
that state law demanded his execution. His mother has been 
pleading for a stay of that court order. Because we are not in 
her position, you and I cannot comprehend the intense pain 
and hurt she feels. If Mrs. Evans no longer loved her son, 
what he did and what was happening to him would not affect 
her. She could, like a lot of detached spectators, watch him 
sit in the electric chair with either indifference or approval. 

I have a friend whose wife, after seventeen years of mar- 
riage, is threatening to leave him. She feels so much anger 
and hostility that she is virtually exploding. She is striking 
out against God and the church and since he, as a minister, 
represents both, she is releasing all her attacks on him as 
the cause of her unhappiness. His pain is as great as hers, 
but he continues to reaffirm his love for her. In spite of 
all the rejection he's experiencing, he stands by, praying and 
hoping that the steadfast and continued love he feels for her 
will save her and the marriage. 

We could scan the surface of this earth and uncover un- 
numbered people who bear inflicted pain and hurt because 
they love. How many faithful mates do we know who stay 
with an alcoholic for that very reason? How many parents 
stand by ready to rescue a child who takes wrong turns in 
life? Whenever we dare to love another person, we become 

A writer named Clarence McConkey gives a portrayal of 
how love makes us vulnerable. He tells of an eight-year-old 
girl who, because of brain damage at birth, is deformed. 


Not Really . . . No One Could Love Me That Much!— 27 

Weighing only twenty pounds, she has no control of any 
bodily function. Since she cannot swallow, she is fed 
through a tube inserted in her throat. The neighbors cannot 
bear to look at the child. Doctors advise the parents to place 
her in an institution, but they cannot do that. The family is 
poor, uneducated, and not acquainted with simple laws of 
health and hygiene. Every night when the father comes 
home from work, he chews food from the table and forces it 
from his mouth into the tube and down the throat of his 
deformed daughter. Although this method is not very sani- 
tary, doctors say the child will never starve to death. That is 
a vivid picture of vulnerable love: a loving father holding a 
frail bit of unlovely life which is made lovely by his love. 

A chaplain at the Medical College of Virginia tells how he 
became involved with the parents of two-year-old Kim, born 
with congenital heart defects. She had undergone all kinds of 
treatments and tests. Surgery was deemed necessary to 
repair her damaged heart, and her doctors warned her par- 
ents of the high risk involved. During the operation, the 
chaplain sat with and listened to the young couple talk about 
their love for their baby girl, as well as their fears and 
anxiety. Kim's condition remained stable for twenty-four 
hours, but then it became apparent that her heart was not 
responding. The doctor broke the sad news. 

After the first wave of grief had passed, the parents went 
into the cardiac unit to see their child. The tubes and 
monitors seemed awkward connected to such a tiny body. 
The mother reached out and took her daughter's hand. 
'*Kim, if you can hear Mommy, squeeze my hand," she 
repeated several times. Almost miraculously the little girl 
opened her eyes and gave a faint smile. As they started to 
leave, the father threw himself across the bed of his daughter 
and sobbed. Everyone in that hospital unit stood motionless 
as they watched those parents say their goodbyes. It was 
painful and yet joyful to see the love they had for their child. 
In two short years she had completely captured their hearts. 

If we could take those expressions of human love and the 
love encompassing our own lives, and magnify them over 
and over, we would catch a glimpse of God's love for us. 

Do we ever wonder what was in the heart of God during 


Not Really . . . No One Could Love Me That Much! — 27 

the crucifixion? Can we comprehend even faintly how an- 
guished he must have been to see his people turn against all 
that his son did to show the depth of love he had for them? It 
is impossible to define that kind of love. The Bible says it is 
characterized by patience, kindness, generosity, unselfish- 
ness, good temper, sincerity. I think we can add another 
characteristic: that love is also vulnerable. 

Love is vulnerable. Thus it can be wounded and is open to 
attack. But when love is vulnerable, it can also mold and 
make its recipients open to the deepest and most meaningful 
moments that human beings can experience. 

God made himself painfully vulnerable to us. He took an 
ordinary criminal's punishment and made it into an ex- 
traordinary symbol of that vulnerable love. It is so hard for 
us to believe that our response can only be, ''Not really . . . 
no one could love me that much!" 



John 20 


I Don't Believe in 
An Empty Tomb 

Some years ago an author, James Ross, wrote a very 
inspiring story about his fifteen-year-old sister-in-law, Mar- 
garet, who was dying of cancer. In telling about her remark- 
able acceptance of pain and death, Mr. Ross described her 
character and her illness so vividly that the reader feels a 
sense of personal bereavement when she dies. 

One of the most moving parts of the book is the reading of 
Margaret's will, which she dictated in the last stages of her 
illness. She left some small possessions, like a locket and a 
prayer book and her toys, to certain members of her family. 
In addition to these material things, Margaret left a spiritual 
legacy. Her will read, "To everyone who has been so won- 
derful these past months, I leave my love and my trust and 
faith in Christ." For her brother-in-law, the author of the 
book, she reserved her most precious bequest: ''And to Jim 
I leave my savings certificates and myself, for lo I am with 
you always, even unto the end of the world." 

There is a sense in which everyone leaves something of 
himself or herself behind at death. No one walks the face of 
this earth without leaving a footprint somewhere, on some- 
body's heart. In Bernard Shaw's play. Saint Joan, the ex- 
ecutioner says after he has put Joan of Arc to death, "Well, 
you've heard the last of her." The Duke of Warlick rather 
cautiously replies, "The last of her? I wonder if we have." 
History has shown how wise the Duke was for we still 
marvel at Joan's faith. It takes more than death to wipe out 
the influence of a strong personality. We will all leave 
something of ourselves behind when we die. 


I Don't Believe in An Empty Tomb — 28 

In that sense, young Margaret could bequeath herself to 
her brother-in-law. She could leave him her memory, her 
inspiration, her continued love. But Margaret could not give 
him the meaning she attached to that promise, ''Lo, I am 
with you always." She could not leave any member of her 
family the promise that she would come back to them. She 
could not say, ''In this world you will see me again." That is 
a promise none of us has the power to make. And yet there 
was a man who did make and keep that promise. 

The life and work of Jesus is depicted in the stained glass 
windows of Edenton Street United Methodist Church. His 
birth, his childhood, his relationships, his teachings, and his 
death can all be seen. Each of those events could be trans- 
posed into our lives, for any of us might be in those pictures. 
We could be parents who offer to our children what was 
offered him in the way of faith. One of us might be a disciple, 
or a boy with a lunch box, or a woman touching his garment, 
or Bartimaeus responding to his call, or the unnamed 
Samaritan. We, too, listen in upper rooms, suffer rejection, 
and open our lives and hearts to the love expressed on 
Calvary. While we cannot put ourselves into the resurrec- 
tion window, seeing it can make us aware that he is still 
alive, not just in memory, or recalled inspiration, or remem- 
bered love, but alive, just as alive in our world as he was that 
first Easter. 

Jesus made a startling statement before his death. In the 
upper room during the last supper he said, 'T am not going to 
leave you alone. In a little while the world will see me no 
more, but you will see me. Because I will really be alive, you 
will be alive, too." 

The disciples who heard him say that had difficulty be- 
lieving it the next day when they saw what happened. They 
saw him nailed on a cross. They saw a spear stuck in his side. 
They saw his mangled body taken down and mournfully 
carried to a grave. They saw a stone rolled against the mouth 
of the sepulchre, shutting out air and light. They knew that 
he was dead. He still belonged to them in a spiritual sense, 
his teachings echoing in their hearts and his inspiring life a 
continuing example, but they had no idea they would see 


IDon t Believe in An Empty Tomh — 28 

him alive again. And yet they did. Some very honest men 
and women testify to seeing him aHve after he was pro- 
nounced dead. Let's Hsten to them. 

''I went to the garden early Sunday morning," Mary 
Magdalene says, ''carrying spices and hoping the soldiers 
would let me anoint the body of Jesus. When I got there, the 
place was deserted. The stone had been rolled away and the 
tomb was empty. Believing that someone had stolen the 
body, I threw myself to the ground and wept. I thought I 
heard the gardener walk up, so I started telling him what I'd 
found. After hearing me out, he called my name and I knew it 
was Jesus!" 

"My friend and I were on our way home to Emmaus that 
Sunday afternoon," Cleopas reports, ''when a stranger 
caught up with us and asked us why we were so sad. We told 
him about the death of Jesus and how rejected we all felt 
because we had thought he was the promised Messiah. The 
stranger explained the scripture, helping us understand 
some of the things that had taken place. It was late when we 
reached home so we invited him in. When we sat down to 
eat, he broke the bread and then we recognized Jesus!" 

John admits that all of Jesus' followers were frightened 
after the crucifixion, so they hid in an upper room. "I told 
them about the empty tomb Peter and I had seen, but that 
only frightened them — and me — more. As we sat there lost 
and dejected, suddenly Jesus himself stood in the midst of 
us. At first we thought we were seeing a ghost, but he talked 
and ate with us, and gave us his blessing. He was there in the 
room with us, alive!" 

"I thought they were hallucinating or having a strange 
vision when they said Jesus was alive," Thomas says. "By 
nature I am a bit skeptical of what others say, and I was 
not there the first time he appeared. But when he came again 
and allowed me to touch his feet and his hands, there was no 
doubt in my mind that Jesus was alive." 

"I doubted even when I looked into the empty tomb," 
reports Simon Peter, "but I saw him both times he appeared 
in the upper room and will never forget the incident later on 
the seashore when he asked me three times if I loved him. 


IDont Believe in An Empty Tomb — 28 

Maybe Jesus wanted to be convinced of my love since I had 
denied him three times." 

These were his followers, people who already believed 
him. Why did Jesus appear only to them? Why didn't he 
appear to some neutral observers? Better yet, why didn't he 
go back to the high priest who condemned him, or to the 
governor who sentenced him, or to the barracks of the 
soldiers who executed him? Why didn't he go back to them 
and scare the daylights out of them and bring them to their 
knees in terror? He had said, 'The world will see me no 

Jesus was alive to those who looked for him. Because they 
looked for him, they found him, and when they found him 
alive, they came back to life. The first Easter marked not 
only his resurrection, but their resurrection also. Something 
happened to those confused and fearful and heartbroken 
disciples on the third day after the crucifixion. Something 
restored their faith and kept it alive in the face of everything 
they had to endure. Something gave them hope and love, 
and kept them going in a world that made mockery of their 
dreams, and called them fools, and hated them. We may 
have some doubt about the verbal witness of Mary and John 
and the others about what happened on Easter Day, but we 
have no doubts about the way they lived after Easter. The 
proof of the resurrection was not in the empty tomb but in 
their lives. That's where it still lies today — not in an empty 
tomb, but in our lives. 

A Muslim once said to the Christian missionary, ''You 
must admit there is one thing we Muslims have that you 
Christians do not possess. When you go to Jerusalem to the 
Church of the Holy Sepulchre, there is nothing for you there 
but an empty place. When we Muslims go to Mecca, at least 
we know where the body of our prophet is." He could not 
have stated more concisely the thing that makes our faith so 
vital. We do not believe in an empty tomb, but in a living 
Presence, and the proof of that Presence s to be seen in our 

The proof of the resurrection of Jesus is not restricted to a 
first century tomb, but in our response to God in our lives 


/ Don't Believe in An Empty Tomb — 28 

now. Christmas can be nothing more than a sentimental 
feehng of good will, or it can make us marvel at the ordinary 
ways in which God comes to his world. The faith can be 
nothing more than a sweet, lovely feeling that is nice for a 
child's development, or it can be the remaking of a home or 
the salvation of a marriage. Service to Christ's church can be 
something we leave to women (since they like that kind of 
thing) or retirees (who have time), or it can be a way to help 
God's kingdom become a reality as it makes every other 
facet of work take on new meaning. Holding on to what we 
have because of an uncertain future can make our resources 
shrivel and dry up, or they can be multiplied when we offer 
them to Christ. The resurrection can be for us an unbeliev- 
able first century event, or an experience that allows Christ 
to live in us. 

If we believe in the resurrection, we will be wonderfully 
transformed, radically renewed. We will be able to rise from 
the death of sin, greed, apathy, hatred, anger, selfishness to 
a new quality of life that is, in every way, more human, more 
personal, more spiritual. It will be just like the life of our 
Lord and we may rightly call it resurrection. How ex- 
traordinary that God offers it to us ordinary Christians. 

Celebrating the resurrection one day a year is not enough. 
The resurrection has to become a way of life for us, as do all 
the other events in his life: his birth, his family relationships, 
his personal encounters, his way of life, his priorities, his 
death. It is up to you and me. God has made it possible, but 
we have to make it happen. 

''He rules the world with truth and grace," but he makes 
us prove ''the wonders of his love." 



Luke 24:50-51 


What's in The Clouds? 

Perhaps you have heard the silly story about the two men 
who were out in their boat one Sunday morning fishing. Both 
felt a few pangs of guilt about not being in church, so they 
were trying to justify their decision to fish instead of wor- 
ship. They decided their communion with God in nature was 
just as vital, if not more so, in a boat as in a pew. 

One of the fishermen said, 'T'm the religious type any- 
way. Why, I can recite the Lord's Prayer from memory. I 
learned it when I was a little fellow in Sunday School and 
have never forgotten it." 

"I don't believe you," the other man said. 

"Well, I'll just bet you five dollars I can," he replied as he 
pulled a bill out of his wallet and placed it on the bottom of 
the boat. 

As he followed suit, his companion challenged him to say 
it word for word. 

''Okay," the religious fellow said. ''Now I lay me down to 
sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before 
I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take." 

His fishing companion picked up the two five dollar bills 
and handed them to his buddy. "I didn't think you could do 
it. Here's your money!" 

Our sadly limited knowledge of the Christian faith is also 
evident in another story I read. It was just before Easter and 
three church members were talking about the approaching 
holiday and what they liked most about it. One of them said, 
"What I like about Easter is all the turkey and dressing and 
the stories about the pilgrims and the Indians." The second 


What\s in the Clouds? — 29 

member added, ''Yeah, and I really like decorating the tree 
and finding all those presents under it on Easter morning." 
Somewhat exasperated at the other two, the third member 
corrected them with, ''Oh, no! You have it all wrong. Easter 
is when Jesus comes out of the tomb, sees his shadow, and 
says that we'll have six more weeks of winter weather." 

That story sounds ridiculous to us because we all know 
that meaning of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. The 
bottom panels of the stained glass windows in the Edenton 
Street United Methodist Church sanctuary are reminders of 
Christmas and Easter and other significant Christian events, 
and we could explain most of them. The nativity, Jesus in the 
temple, the last supper, Gethsemane, the crucifixion and 
resurrection are all within our minds' reach. But what about 
the last window? It shows Christ with outstretched arms, 
standing on clouds and surrounded by two men who appar- 
ently must be angels since they have wings. If there were a 
funny story to tell about that window, how many of us would 
catch on? How many of us know what happened after Easter 

If we stop and think about it, we'll remember that the 
Apostles' Creed makes reference to it. When we use that 
affirmation of faith, we declare our belief in Jesus Christ, 
"who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin 
Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, 
and buried; the third day he rose from the dead; he ascended 
into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God." This last 
window depicts the ascension. Ascension means Christ . . . 
means Christ did what? 

After the resurrection, the followers of Jesus saw him 
several times. He appeared to the women as they ran from 
the empty tomb, on their way to tell the disciples that he had 
risen. He met the disciples a number of times in the upper 
room, by the seashore, on the hillside. He walked and talked 
with two friends from Emmaus and approached Mary Mag- 
dalene as she stood outside the empty tomb. The four writ- 
ers of the gospels report these appearances. But one of 
them, Luke, tells of an event that took place after the resur- 
rection appearances. He tells it in two places: in his gospel 


What's in the Clouds? — 29 

and in the Book of Acts . The event he records has come to be 
known as the ascension of our Lord — his leaving the earth. 

In his gospel, Luke implies that the ascension happened at 
the end of that long Easter Day (Luke 24:51). In writing 
Acts, Luke states that Jesus ascended into heaven at the end 
of forty days. We have a problem pinpointing or being able 
to pinpoint the specific time. We also have difficulty with the 
language Luke uses to convey the meaning of this event. 

This story comes from an age in which man's theories of 
the universe were very different from ours. The people of 
the first century thought of the universe in terms of the old 
Babylonian cosmology. They supposed the earth to be a flat 
expanse, overarched by the sky. Above the sky were the 
heavens. There God abided, so going to him meant rising 
from the earth, through the clouds, into those heavenly 
places above. Underneath the flat earth was hell, the third 
level in this concept of a three-tiered universe. 

When Luke wrote the account of the ascension, he was 
trying to picture reality in terms and symbols his first readers 
could understand. So he wrote: ''As the disciples were 
looking on, Jesus was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of 
their sight." (It is hard to realize that some well-meaning but 
misguided people have gone so far as to say that Jesus was 
an astronaut and the cloud was the exhaust from the fiery 
chariot of God.) 

I read of a literal scripture reader who found a group of 
soldiers sitting in the barracks, talking about John Glenn and 
his first orbit in space. Joining in the conversation, the 
reader informed the soldiers that he knew three men who 
had traveled in space long before Glenn. Opening the Bible, 
he read to them about Enoch and Elijah, two Old Testament 
characters who were reported to be so close to God that they 
never died but ascended right into heaven. (Genesis 5:24; II 
Kings 2:11). Then he told them of the third astronaut, Jesus, 
and his ascension. (Acts 1:9). 

We twentieth-century Christians know that this earth is a 
mere speck in the immensity of space. No matter how far 
down into the earth we dig, we will not find any fiery pits. No 
matter how far we ascend into the sky, we will not find the 


What's in the Clouds?— 29 

glories of a heavenly abode, only immense and silent space 
sprinkled with galaxies. It was no news to us when a Russian 
cosmonaut reported that he had seen no angels during his 
trip into space. Luke wrote about Christ ascending beyond 
clouds to his heavenly Father because he, too, believed in a 
three-tiered universe. His first readers understood what he 

The real meaning of the ascension, however, lies beyond 
all the symbolism of the clouds and the language of an 
outmoded view of space. There is a profound truth here, and 
we can grasp it if we stretch our minds beyond the ancient 
cosmology to the Christ of today whose ascension has sig- 
nificance for us. I want to suggest two things it can mean for 
us right now, where we are. Let me warn you that they are 
very simple things. In giving them I feel like Charlie Brown 
in the "Peanuts" comic strip. One day Charlie, Lucy, and 
Linus were all looking at the clouds. Lucy said, 'Tf you use 
your imagination, you can see a lot of things in the cloud 
formations. What do you see, Linus?" Linus replied, 
"Well, those clouds look like the map of British Honduras in 
the Caribbean. That cloud looks a little like the profile of 
Thomas Eakins, the famous painter and sculptor. And that 
group of clouds over there gives me the impression of the 
stoning of Stephen. I can see the Apostle Paul standing to 
one side." Lucy told Linus he did well. Then turning to 
Charlie, she asked, "What do you see in the clouds?" Poor 
old Charlie, with a bewildered look, replied, "I was going to 
say I saw a ducky and a horsey, but I changed my mind." 
Surely there are some profound things to see in the clouds 
which surround the ascension of Christ, but let me point out 
two simple ideas. 

First, the ascension is Luke's way of saying that the Son 
has been completely and totally accepted and welcomed by 
the Father. As the disciples were talking with Jesus, he 
blessed them and parted from them. Where did he go? He 
went to the Father who gave him to us. I like the way one 
theologian puts it. He says the ascension is the story of the 
homecoming of the Son of Man who had wandered into this 
far country. 



What's in the Clouds? — 29 

It is not surprising that Luke tells us the disciples ''went 
back to Jerusalem with great joy." They shared in that 
celebration. The Jesus they had followed, the one who had 
been killed and had come back to them on Easter, was 
indeed the Son of God. That is what the cloud symbolizes in 
this story. Throughout the Old Testament, the cloud meant 
that God was present. The Hebrews were led through the 
wilderness by a cloud. A cloud surrounded Moses when he 
received the Ten Commandments. Isaiah said that God's 
presence was like a cloud of smoke filling the temple. The 
disciples understood that their Lord had been welcomed 
home into the full and total presence of God, symbolized by 
a cloud. 

The ascension is a way of saying that there is no need to 
^ look for any other saviour, any other lord, no point in think- 
ing that governments can save or make mankind. Asking our 
youth to become saviours and make this world better is 
futile. Even continuing to anticipate that some futuristic 
event will bring salvation is to deny what God has already 
done, and is doing. Jesus the Saviour has come to us, and in 
spirit has never left us. "Lo, I am with you always, even 
unto the end of the world." As we follow him, his directions, 
his methods, we will be accepted as he was accepted and 
welcomed as he was welcomed. 

We see The Way in such ordinary ways. We see it in the 
sanctuary windows: the influence of parents (temple bap- 
tism), the close ties between home and church (Jesus at 
twelve), the gifts we offer (feeding of the five thousand), the 
priorities we set (touching the garment), the acts of kindness 
we show (the parable of the Good Samaritan), the inheri- 
tance we accept (the upper room), the love we exemplif>c 
(crucifixion), the cocoons of selfishness we rise from (the 
resurrection). Here are the ordinary ways in which we, too, 
ascend to the Father, accepted and welcomed, not in clouds 
or in some future time, but now, as we strive to follow our 

In the second place, the ascension is Luke's way of saying 
that Christ ''departed from" the disciples in order to be 
"ever present" with them. Paradoxically, we believe Jesus 


What's in the Clouds?— 29 

''went away'' so that he could ''be present" with all peoples 
everywhere. He changed from a localized Jesus, limited by 
time and space, to a universal, cosmic Christ, who is Lord of 
all. His human life was only the beginning of the Good 

The life span of that particular human being, Jesus of 
Nazareth, was now over and had vanished into the past, as 
all human life does. His physical presence was no longer 
available. His spirit was now set free from the limitations of 
his particular historical existence. And that living and life- 
giving presence of Christ was to be hereafter available at all 
times and in all places, to all who would accept it. 

The ascension declares that Christ is the Lord, the exalted 
and ascended Lord of all peoples and all nations. His love 
embraces Orient and Occident, Asian and American. He is 
present on both sides of every gap we create, every wall we 
build, every barrier we erect. He is on both and all sides 
calling us so that we, too, can enjoy the same homecoming. 
The ascension reinforces our belief that Christ never leaves 
and never forsakes us. His ever-present spirit assures us that 
he is always near. 

There is surely more to be seen in Luke's ascension 
clouds, more than simply Charlie Brown's ducky and hor- 
sey. But if in those ordinary clouds we find the extraordinary 
freedom to follow Christ all the way home, if we are able to 
declare that he is with us and lord over every part of this 
universe and our lives, then our simplicity has revealed 
truths by which we can live and die. Hallelujah! Amen! 



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